Canada’s Para-nordic squad celebrated its third-straight double-medal day, winning gold and silver on Saturday at the final World Cup stop in Sapporo, Japan.
Brian McKeever and his guide, Graham Nishikawa, rocketed to the gold medal in the men’s 10-kilometre visually impaired category, while the new star in the para-cross-country ski circles, 18-year-old Natalie Wilkie, put a silver splash on the Canadian celebration in the women’s 7.5-kilometre standing classification.
Longtime friends and Paralympic teammates, McKeever, of Canmore, Alta., and Nishikawa, of Whitehorse, put the hurt on the field in the men’s skate-ski race at the Nishioka Stadium, finishing with a time of 24:24.3.
“It was a good day on pretty hot skis,” said the 39-year-old McKeever, a winner of 17 Paralympic medals – 13 of them gold. “The boys in the wax cabin won the race for us today.”
McKeever, who recently celebrated his 20th World Championship title, led wire-to-wire, while following a strong pace set by the 35-year-old Nishikawa.
“We were in control right from the start. Graham set the perfect pace for us today. It was another great team race and nice to get another win,” added McKeever.
The Canadians topped two athletes from the Ukraine. Dmytro Suiarko finished second at 24:56.9. Iaroslav Reshetynskyi skied to the bronze medal with a time of 25:03.8.
Natalie Wilkie of Salmon Arm, B.C., captured Canada’s sixth medal of the week in Japan.
The three-time Paralympic medallist was steady in a silver-medal performance in the women’s 7.5-kilometre standing race.
Wilkie battled up and down the rolling 2.5 kilometre terrain three times to post a time of 21:24.3.
“Natalie skied really well. Her legs were a bit heavy and had a couple of stumbles on a steep climb, but still managed to ski the fastest third lap of all the women,” said Robin McKeever, head coach, Canadian Para-Nordic Ski Team.
Wilkie closed the gap on Norway’s Vilde Nilsen in the final lap but ran out of real estate. Nilsen won the gold with a time of 20:41.5.
Ukraine’s Iuliia Batenkova settled for the bronze medal at 21:45.7.
North Vancouver’s Emily Young, who racked up a silver and bronze medal in the biathlon events earlier this week, finished sixth at 22:18.9. Brittany Hudak, who was fourth in both biathlon races, was seventh on Saturday. The 25-year-old Hudak, of Prince Albert, Sask., punched the clock at 22:29.3.
Mark Arendz’s medal streak came to an end on Saturday. A six-time medallist at last month’s World Championships, followed by a silver and bronze in this week’s biathlon World Cup competitions, the Springton, P.E.I. resident placed sixth at 26:12 in the men’s 10-kilometre standing division.
Derek Zaplotinsky, of Smoky Lake, Alta., was also sixth in the men’s 7.5-kilometre sit-ski race. Zaplotinsky completed the three loops in a time of 25:04.0.
The Para-Nordic World Cup wraps up in Japan on Sunday.