Canadian Para-Nordic Team Fires Up Four Medals at World Championship Opener
OESTERSUND, Swe.— Canada’s Para Nordic Team opened the 2023 World Championships with a four-medal haul in the biathlon short event on Saturday.
Natalie Wilkie celebrated her 22nd birthday with her first World Championship biathlon title in the women’s standing competition. Collin Cameron (Sudbury, Ont.) also skied to his first World Championship biathlon crown in the men’s sit-skiing event. Brittany Hudak (Prince Albert, Sask.) and Mark Arendz (Hartsville, P.E.I.) snagged a pair of silvers.
Wilkie, of Salmon Arm, B.C., took advantage of fast skis and near perfect shooting, missing just one of 10 shots in the 7.5-kilometre race. The two-time Paralympian locked up her first ever biathlon medal at the premier event in a non-Paralympic year with a time of 22:43.5 (0+1).
“A great birthday present. I woke up this morning hoping for a podium and taking the gold medal today, so it was a special way to celebrate,” said Wilkie.
The cross-country ski specialist from Salmon Arm, B.C. – who has racked up seven medals in her two trips to the Paralympic Games – is now developing into a podium threat each time she hits the line in biathlon competitions.
“The difference for me in biathlon this year has been taking myself less seriously when I race. I used to get very stressed out in the range so this year I’ve been trying to shift my mindset to see shooting as something more fun than stressful,” added Wilkie. “Now I tell myself the range is just a place I get to take a break in the middle of the race to hit some targets.”
Wilkie shared the podium with her teammate and friend, Brittany Hudak. A winner of two biathlon bronze medals at the Paralympics, the 29-year-old celebrated her first World Championship podium with a perfect day on the shooting range. Hudak clocked-in at 23:14.2.
“It went well for me today. I had a solid plan going into the first race of World Championships and had rocket fast skis,” said Hudak, who finally broke through onto the podium after a handful of fourth place finishes. “The first race always gets the nerves going but after seeing the great races from the sit skiers in the morning, I was excited to race.”
Bohdana Konashuk, of the Ukraine, was third at 23:50.7 (2+0).
Collin Cameron dusted the men’s sit-skiing field to claim his first World Championship biathlon title.
“That was so unexpected. I didn’t even know that I won when I crossed the line,” said Cameron. “I was getting splits from the coaches but wasn’t sure if there were other athletes I was behind still after those splits, so I just kept pushing. I crossed the line and said, ‘did I just win?’
“It is such a great feeling to get my first biathlon win and to have it hear at Worlds is amazing.”
The 34-year-old powered through the punishing Swedish course after missing one of 10 shots on the range to post a winning time of 24:10.0 (1+0).
It was an emotional triumph for the Bracebridge, Ont. resident who gave tribute in the victory to his father who recently passed away.
“It has been a really tough start to the year with the sudden passing of my father and flying home last minute for a couple of days before coming to Sweden,” said Cameron. “Today’s race will always be a special one for me and I’m proud I was able to get a win here for my Dad.”
Cameron, a winner of two biathlon medals at his first Paralympics in 2018, was 40 seconds ahead of the next best finisher on Saturday.
“I was literally using this race to work out some kinks and get a feel for the course,” said Cameron, who added sit skiers head to a 100-metre penalty loop for each miss.
“I had a silly miss in the range, but I was finally able to have some solid focus to recover from that one and shoot clean on the second bout.”
Aaron Pike, of the United States, was clean on the range en route to placing second at 24:54.4. Yerboi Khamitov, of Kazakhstan, placed third at 25:07.3 (0+1).
Derek Zaplotinsky, of Smoky Lake, Alta., finished sixth with a time of 25:53.5 (0+0).
The veteran of Canada’s Para Nordic Team, Mark Arendz, racked up the 10th World Championship biathlon podium of his career, adding a silver in the men’s standing competition. The 32-year-old finished just three seconds off the gold medal pace with a time of 20:03.1.
“It was a very close finish. The speed I had on the final lap made it possible to challenge for the title despite some trouble on the range,” said Arendz who missed two shots in his final bout of shooting. “That speed gives me the confidence going forward into the remaining races at Worlds.”
Standing athletes are required to ski a 150-metre penalty loop for every missed shot.
Germany’s Marco Maier hit one more shot than Arendz to secure the title with a time of 20:00.3.
Serhii Romaniuk, of the Ukraine, was third at 20:14.4 (1+0).
Canada’s Christina Picton just missed out on her first World Championship podium. The 2022 Paralympian rebounded after missing two shots in her first trip to the range, finishing with a time of 31:56.2.
Kendall Gretsch, of the United States, shot clean to win the women’s sit-ski race with a time of 27:24.5.
Nordiq Canada is the governing body of para nordic and cross-country skiing in Canada, which is the nation’s optimal sport and recreational activity with more than one million Canadians participating annually. Its 60,000 members include athletes, coaches, officials and skiers of all ages and abilities. With the support of its valued corporate partners – Swix, Lanctôt Sports and Pembroke – along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own the Podium, Nordiq Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic and world champions. For more information on Nordiq Canada, please visit us at https://nordiqcanada.ca.
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