Mark Arendz from Hartsville, P.E.I. can finally call himself a Paralympic champion. Brittany Hudak from Prince Albert, Sask., and Sudbury’s Collin Cameron battled to bronze in the long-distance biathlon races at the Paralympic Winter Games.
It was a beat down from small town Canadian athletes at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre in PyeongChang, Korea on Friday, and the most successful day ever in the history of the program.
Mark Arendz claimed the first Paralympic biathlon gold of his career by winning the men’s 15-kilometre standing race with a time of 42:52.2.
“Every time I stepped on the podium this week, I kept thinking I want to hear Paralympic Champion, and then my name announced. I wanted nothing more than to hear my country’s anthem played,” said Arendz, who let out his trademark roar when he crossed the finish line.
“I’ve seen the maple leaf on top of the podium three times this week, but to finally have it behind the top step of the podium for me is an amazing feeling.”
The medal was the fourth of the Games for the 28-year-old Arendz who earned silver and bronze in earlier biathlon events, and his first-career cross-country sprint bronze at the world’s premiere sporting festival. Arendz now owns six career Paralympic medals.
A race that puts a premium on shooting, with one-minute penalties doled out for each missed shot, Arendz was perfect in all four stops on the range.
“I wanted to be consistent and focus on the process all week. This race was my strength. It is a shooting race and you have to go clean,” said Arendz. “The process was key today, and I just tried to make sure I hit those 20 targets. Once I got to that last bout I wasn’t going to miss, so I made sure of every shot before I pulled the trigger. In the end I was clean, the skiing was strong, and that is what I wanted.
“That completes the (medal) set for biathlon, and my first gold which means everything to me.”
The lanky Canuck topped his two main rivals. One missed shot dropped Benjamin Daviet, of France, to second place with a time of 43:50.5. Norway’s Nils-Erik Ulset shot clean to claim the bronze medal with a time of 44:06.7.
Brittany Hudak had the race of her life to win her first career Paralympic medal in the women’s 12.5-kilometre race. Hudak became the first Canadian woman to win a bronze medal against a deep international field in the women’s standing biathlon division.
Hudak shot clean to post a time of 41:20.7.
“This is such an unreal day. There are so many emotions,” said Hudak after getting mauled by her teammates in the finish corral. “I just tried to think about the process throughout the race. “I wanted to focus on shooting because I knew it was going to make a difference today.”
Hudak was clean out of her final round of shooting and charged of the stadium for her fourth, and final lap, where she got a major boost to the podium by her teammate.
Recognizing she was out of the race and that Hudak was only seconds off the podium pace, Canada’s Emily Young put the pedal down to catch the two-time Paralympian and pulled her around the final lap where they made five seconds up on the field. The team work secured Hudak a spot on the Paralympic podium.
“I was hearing the splits around the course, and I knew after my second round of shooting I was out of the top-four, and there was a big gap,” said the 27-year-old Young from North Vancouver, who sustained nerve damage in her right arm as a high-performance wrestler.
“I just chased Britt down on the course, and once I caught her, started screaming at her to follow me and not get dropped. I was breaking the wind for her the whole way. I was pretty tired on that last lap, but just kept skiing hard and screaming at her to follow. I don’t know where I found the energy.
“She did awesome. Britt is my right arm girl. I’m so proud of her. We both work so hard and I know how many hours she put into this. I’m just as excited for her as I would be for myself.”
Hudak was invited to join Canada’s Para-Nordic Ski Team in 2013 after meeting legendary sit-skier, Colette Bourgonje, at a Canadian Tire store where the young flat lander worked. While checking out to pay for her items at Hudak’s cash register, Bourgonje invited her to come and try cross-country skiing. Shortly after, she made her Paralypmic debut in Sochi, and has been on a steady development curve since.
“It seems like such a short journey since Colette discovered me in that Canadian Tire back home, but I have put a lot into this. I’m just so lost for words. It is so incredible,” said Hudak. “I knew I was in the medal mix heading into that last lap. Everyone was screaming at me to keep going. Emily kept yelling at me the whole way around, and I just tried to hang onto her. I was breathing so hard and gave it everything I had. I was so tired at the finish and wanted to collapse.”
Hudak shared the podium with two of the most dominant skiers in the women’s standing classification – both Neutral Paralympic Athletes. Anna Milenina won the gold with a time of 38:56.8 (0+1+0+1). Ekaterina Rumyantseva claimed the silver at 39:00.6 (0+2+0+0).
A hero within the team, Young ended up in seventh place with a time of 43:18.5 (0+1+0+1).
Collin Cameron gave the Canadians an emotional boost of his own, setting the tone for the day with his second biathlon bronze medal of the Paralympic Games in the men’s 15-kilomtre sit-skiing race.
Heartbroken after a fourth-place finish in the cross-country sprint race on Wednesday where he was expecting to medal heading into the Games, the 29-year-old from Sudbury, Ont. dug deep to clock a time of 50:59.1.
“This is awesome. This one is the sweetest one for sure,” said Cameron, who also shocked the world to win a bronze in the short distance biathlon race earlier in the week. “That was a little redemption after the sprint day because I really wanted that one.”
A short distance specialist, Cameron had little expectations heading into the race – especially after a restless night.
“I got very little sleep last night. I just couldn’t seem to settle,” added Cameron. “My coach told me some of the best athlete performances have happened after a bad night of sleep. I told myself to just settle down. I got the bugs out in that first lap, focused on pacing in every lap and just kept pushing.
“I came here wanting to get on the podium in cross country, and I’m going home with two biathlon medals. I didn’t expect that at all.”
Incurring only a single shooting penalty, Cameron finished just behind Germany’s Martin Fleig who was perfect on the range. Fleig finished with a time of 49:57.2. American Daniel Cnossen hung on for the silver medal with a time of 50:42.7 despite missing one shot in his final stop at the range.
Canada’s Para-Nordic squad will be back on the start line Saturday for a 7.5- and 10-kilometre cross-country ski race.