2018 Winter Paralympics (PyeongChang, South Korea): Mixed and open relays
On the final day of the PyeongChang Paralympic Games, Canada was the only country to medal in both the mixed and open cross-country relays, and its mixed relay anchor, Mark Arendz, became the most decorated Canadian at a single Winter Paralympics with his sixth medal of the week.
In the 4 x 2.5-kilometer mixed relay on Sunday, Natalie Wilkie, Emily Young, Chris Klebl, and Arendz teamed up for silver, 50 seconds behind Ukraine (Iurii Utkin, Liudmyla Liashenko, Yuliia Batenkova-Bauman, and Oksana Shyshkova), which claimed gold in 24:31.9 minutes. On the final skate leg, Arendz held off Germany (Andrea Eskau, Steffen Lehmker and Alexander Ehler) by 3.4 seconds at the line.
Wilkie and Young, standing athletes coming off gold and bronze in Saturday’s 7.5 k cross-country race, started the team off for the first two classic legs. Wilkie, 17, also earned an individual bronze at these Games. While Wilkie tagged Young in fifth, Young went on to tag Klebl, a 2014 Paralympic champion sit-skier, in seventh place.
“Our team worked so well together,” Young said of the relay, according to a Cross Country Canada press release. “It looked a little scary in the beginning, but we knew we had Chris in third and Mark anchoring which was going to be the difference. We each held our own in our individual sections and it is so fun to win this one as a team.”
Klebl, 46, made up 27 seconds on the field and tagged Arendz in fourth. Arendz then caught and passed Japan’s Taiki Kawayoke and later Germany’s Ehler on the last downhill into the finishing stretch to finish second.
“This is fantastic. It is our first relay medal ever,” Arendz, 28, told Cross Country Canada. “It is great to end the Games with a historic moment that we get to share with each other for the rest of our lives. This is a great team of two veterans and two rookies. I’m so happy we were able to get this done.”
Arendz, who elected flag bearer of the Canadian Paralympic Team for Sunday’s Closing Ceremony, is taking home a gold medal from the 15 k biathlon race, two silvers, and three bronze medals. He competed in all but one race throughout the week, skipping the distance cross-country race.
“I came in here thinking I could get three medals, but to get six is incredible,” Arendz said. “Today’s is a special one. I am happy we got this done, but there is no way I could do another race. I’m done.”
The U.S. team, with Kendall Gretsch, Ruslan Reiter, Jake Adicoff (and guide Sawyer Kesselheim) placed seventh in the mixed relay, 1:35.7 out of first. Gretsch skied both the first and third legs and tagged Adicoff in ninth out of 13 teams at the last exchange.
“It’s a little bit nerve-wracking and a little bit fun,” Adicoff said of skiing the anchor leg. “They did an awesome job on the first three legs.”
In the 4 x 2.5 k open relay an hour later, Canada raced to bronze with two athletes: sit-skier Collin Cameron and visually impaired skier Brian McKeever (and his guides Graham Nishikawa and Russell Kennedy).
The duo finished 1:05.8 behind France, which placed first with Benjamin Daviet, Anthony Chalencon and Thomas Clarion in 22:46.6. Norway finished 22.5 seconds back for silver, with Nils-Erik Ulset, Hakon Olsrud and Eirik Bye.
Ukraine (Iaroslav Reshetynskyi, Olha Prylutska, Grygorii Vovchynskyi, and Anatolii Kovalevskyi) crossed the line in third but was penalized 30 seconds for an early exchange and slipped to fifth (+1:26.3), while Canada moved into third and Belarus placed fourth (+1:23.7).
Early in the race, Cameron tagged McKeever in eighth at the first exchange, and McKeever and his guide raced up to fourth. On the third leg, Cameron was skiing in third until he dropped a pole on the last climb and had to turn around to recover it. He came through the last exchange in sixth, 25 seconds behind Ukraine in third. McKeever went on to crossed the finish line fourth place, but his team was awarded bronze after Ukraine was penalized for tagging outside the exchange zone.
The bronze medal was Cameron’s third of the week after he placed third in two biathlon races earlier in the week. For McKeever, Canada’s most decorated Winter Paralympian of all time who won all three individual cross-country races he competed in over the last week, it was the 17th medal of his Paralympic career.
“I just tried to pace it properly and be as fast as I could. It was so much fun,” Cameron, 28, told Cross Country Canada. “This is my first relay, so I was really looking forward to this. I am super happy to leave here with three medals.”
“It’s incredible to get two relay medals today,” McKeever, 38, said. “We knew we had a shot if we all had really good days. What Mark, Chris and the girls did in that first relay was awesome. These races are so interesting with all different disabilities together. It is never over until last tour around, and in both cases, we saw that today with lots of different lead changes out there.”
The U.S. team, with Andy Soule, Sean Halsted, Grace Miller, and Mia Zutter (and guide Kristina Trygstad-Saari), placed 12th in the open relay out of 12 teams.
“It’s been an amazing Paralympic Games,” Soule, 38, told U.S. Paralympics Nordic. “The organizers have put on a great event. This is a great team to be involved with. We’ve had a lot of fun here. This is my last Paralympic race, but we have a couple of young athletes here. We’ll have a great team for a long time.”
In total, both the Canadian and U.S. Paralympic teams tallied 16 medals between nordic and biathlon in PyeongChang — a record for both programs. Notably, every member of Canada’s Para-Nordic World Cup Team is taking home at least one medal.