The leaders of Canada’s Para-Nordic Team wasted no time getting the maple leaf onto the international cross-country ski podium while celebrating a double-medal day at the IPC World Cup opener in Lillehammer, Norway on Thursday.
Plaralympic legend, Brian McKeever, who carried the Canadian flag into Opening Ceremonies at the 2018 Games claimed the gold with guide, Russell Kennedy, in the men’s 7.5-kilometre classic-ski visually impaired category. Mark Arendz, the Closing Ceremony flag bearer for the Canucks, skied to the bronze in the men’s standing division.
McKeever relied on his guide and fellow-Canmore, Alta. friend, Russell Kennedy, to set the golden pace over the three laps at the Birkebeineren Ski Stadium. The Canadian duo dusted the field with a time of 19:32.0.
“It was really good today. Russ picked the pace today and I tried not to ask him to slow down. I just wanted to suffer for as long as I could,” said McKeever, a winner of 17 Paralympic medals. “We got to that third and final lap and I had to get him to slow it down a bit.”
The Canadians finished 40 seconds ahead of their top rival, Zebastian Modin. The Swede skied to a silver-medal time of 20:12.6. Russia’s Oleg Ponomarev captured the bronze at 20:22.7.
“My shape is still not exactly where I want it. I am up and down a right now, but things were a lot better today,” added the 40-year-old McKeever. “The conditions were tough today, but it was great to get fired up to ski a good pace early. Russ was the key. He was super attentive and we were really in synch in the last lap. It was a fun start.”
Mark Arendz, of Hartsville, P.E.I., successfully put his summer training to the test with a bronze medal in the men’s standing division.
The 29-year-old was steady in each of his three spins around the 2.5-kilometre loop to clock a third-place time of 19:58.5.
“It was a great start to the season. At times I skied very well, but little mistakes added up and I finished third,” said the eight-time Paralympic medallist, who added the snow conditions were a challenge for the world’s best Para-Nordic athletes. “Our team worked really well together today to provide great skis. I’m satisfied with my race, but still have several things I need to be working on throughout the season.”
Arendz finished 56 seconds behind the winning mark set by Russia’s Vladislav Lekomtsev who clocked-in at 19:08.0. The Canadian was just four seconds behind the silver-medal time of 19:55.8 posted by Rushan Minnegulov.
The Canadian women were also battling for the podium in the women’s 7.5-kilometre standing classification. Brittany Hudak, of Prince Albert, Sask., placed sixth at 25:47.1. Hudak was just 20 seconds behind the bronze-medal winning time. Natalie Wilkie, of Salmon Arm, B.C, finished seventh with a time of 27:33.1.
Norway’s Vilde Nilsen won the classification with a time of 24:27.6.
Other Canadian results included: Collin Cameron, of Sudbury, Ont., placing 11th in the men’s five-kilometre sit-ski race at 15:26.6. Derek Zaplotinsky, of Smoky Lake, Alta., finished 15:42.7. Quebec’s Lyne-Marie Bilodeau was 19th in the women’s sit-ski race.
The Para-Nordic World Cup continues on Saturday in Norway.