The 2017 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Nordic Skiing Championships kicked off Saturday, Feb. 11, in Finsterau, Germany. Day 1 included middle-distance biathlon events for both genders, with Canada’s Mark Arendz earning his second-career IPC World Championships title. On Day 2, both genders competed in a cross-country sprint, where American Oksana Masters raced to her first world title and her U.S. Paralympics Nordic teammate Andy Soule claimed silver. Complete results and race recap below.
There’s no better way to start a World Championships week than with a world title. After hitting all 20 targets in the men’s 12.5 k standing biathlon race, that’s just what Canada’s Mark Arendz did, taking gold on the opening day, Saturday, Feb. 11, in a time of 30:39.3 minutes.
“To start the World Championships off with a World Title is a huge boost of confidence going into the rest of the competitions here in Germany,” Arendz wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “ It is proof that the changes that the program and I have made this year are working. That the training and hard work is going in the right direction.”
The win is 26-year-old Arendz’s second World Championships title and first podium at a top-level international race (in a non-Paralympic year) in three years, according to a Canadian Para-Nordic Skiing press release. He previously took gold in a biathlon sprint and two bronze medals in 2013.
“The biggest change for me has come from my approach to shooting,” Arendz said, according to the press release. “My new (shooting) coach has really brought my shooting back to the level that it once was. I was repeating too many bad habits, so the key was to rebuild the shooting from the ground up. Today, I proved the shooting is once again back on top.
“Shooting clean at major events is key,” he added. “I controlled what I could on the range. On the course, I worked on areas where I am stronger and held a consistent pace.”
France’s Benjamin Daviet finished behind Arendz in second place in a time of 31:14.3 with two misses (0+0+1+1), while third place went to Ukraine’s Grygorii Vovchynskyi in a time of 31:22.8 after two misses (0+1+0+1).
(Recap continues below)
The women’s 10 k standing biathlon gold went to Oleksandra Kononova, who completed the course in a time of 31:41.5 after three misses (1+0+1+1).
“I am happy but there is still a lot of work to do and many races to compete in,” Kononova said according to an IPC press release.
Second place went to Liudmyla Liashenko, also of Ukraine, in a time of 33:05.7 with five missed shots (2+1+2+0). The final women’s standing podium spot was taken by Japan’s Yurika Abe in a time of 34:14.3 and one miss (1+0+0+0).
Two Canadian women competed in Saturday’s standing biathlon event, with Brittany Hudak leading the team in eighth place. Hudak finished in 36:39.2 after shooting clean. Her teammate, Emily Young finished 10th in a time of 39:28.2 with five misses (0+2+0+3).
In the men’s 12.5 k sitting biathlon race, Germany’s Martin Fleig took gold in a time of 37:31.0 with one penalty (1+0+0+0). It was his first world title and in front of a home crowd.
“I cannot believe it, it is unreal for me, I do not know what is going on,” Fleig said according to an IPC press release. “I had a good race and I only missed one shot. Having my people cheering for me gives me extra power.”
Ukraine’s Taras Rad placed second in a time of 37:52.2 with two misses (2+0+0+0) and third place went to Korea’s Eui Hyun Sin in a time of 39:37.4 after four misses (2+1+1+0).
Just missing the podium in fourth place overall was Canada’s Collin Cameron, who finished in a time of 40:02.0 after one miss (0+1+0+0). In sixth was American Andy Soule, finishing in a time of 40:10.4 with five penalties (1+2+0+2). Canada’s Derek Zaplotinsky finished ninth in a time of 43:05.8 with four misses (1+0+3+0).
Belarus’s Lidziya Hrafeyeva won the women’s 10 k sitting biathlon race, completing the course in a time of 34:46.0 with one miss (0+1+0+0).
“My first medal at a Worlds and it is gold. This is like a dream for me,” Hrafeyeva said according to an IPC press release.
Anja Wicker of Germany claimed second in a time of 36:22.1 after two misses (1+0+1+0), while Andrea Eskau, also of Germany, took third in a time of 36:48.5 with one miss (1+0+0+0). Just off the podium in fourth was American Oksana Masters, who finished in a time of 36:53.7 with five misses (1+2+1+1).
“I know I have very strong opponents such as Belarus’ Lidziya Hrafeyeva, USA’s Oksana Masters and my teammate Andrea Eskau,” Wicker said according to an IPC press release. “But I am giving my best.”
In the men’s 12.5 k visually impaired biathlon race, Ukraine swept the podium with Iurii Utkin taking the win. Utkin shot clean and completed the course in a time of 32:50.7.
“It feels great to win this title, this is very big and I did not expect to win. But hopefully now I will win more golds in the days to come,” Utkin said according to an IPC press release.
His teammate, Anatolii Kovalevsky claimed second place in a time of 33:07.4 after also shooting 100 percent. Dmytro Suiarko earned the final medal after finishing third in a time of 33:51.9 with one miss (1+0+0+0).
Ukraine also took the top two spots in the women’s visually impaired biathlon event, with Olga Prylutska winning in a time of 33:11.4 after two misses (1+0+1+0) and Ukiraine’s Oksana Shyshkova racing to second place in a time of 33:18.5 with one missed shot (0+0+1+0). Third went to Germany’s Clara Klug in a time of 36:47.9 after two missed shots (1+0+1+0).
Athletes returned to the venue on Sunday, Feb. 12, for the first day of cross-country races at 2017 IPC World Nordic Skiing Championships: the sprints.
Oksana Masters is far from your average athlete. The 27-year-old member of the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing A-team has competed in three Olympics in three different sports: rowing, skiing and handcycling. She earned a bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Games in London and later a silver and another bronze medal at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Five months after competing in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Masters has added another medal to her growing list. This one gold.
The Kentucky native won the women’s sitting sprint on Sunday in a time of 2:59.36, besting both Germany’s Eskau and Belarus’s Hrafeyeva for her first world title.
“This was unreal,” Masters said, according to a U.S. Paralympics press release. “I’ve been competing in sports for so long, and this was my first world championship title. I’ve put anything and everything I had into sprinting, especially after getting so close in Sochi. I’m just so excited to bring home a world championship for Team USA for the Paralympic Nordic program.”
Masters’s gold was historic for both her and the U.S. — the last time the U.S. national anthem was played at a World Championships was six seasons ago.
“This is a huge day for Oksana and Andy [Soule] and historical for our program and we plan to keep the momentum going!” U.S. Paralympics Nordic Head Coach Eileen Carey wrote in an email.
Eskau took second in a time of 3:14.97, while Hrafeyeva claimed third in a time of 3:17.24.
In the men’s sitting sprint, another American reached the podium as Soule, U.S. Paralympics Nordic’s other A-team member, captured silver behind Ukraine’s Maksym Yarovyi in first. Yarovyi completed the sprint in a time of 2:37.77, while Soule crossed in a time of 2:47.99.
“It is not just me that got me here,” Soule wrote in an email. “I have worked hard but without my teammates working with me and the continued support of my coaches and technicians none of this is possible. Our team is doing great things right now and I see a great future for us.”
While Soule explained that he was able to avoid any traffic spills in his semifinal, he narrowly avoided one in his final.
“It was a very tight race into the first turn and there was a little bit of contact,” Soule wrote. “One racer did not make it out clean and I came out tightly following two other racers in my class. When we turned up hill I took the lane they didn’t and was able to out climb them. From the top it was once again able to just hold on to a lead (for second). I was not quite able to catch Maksym Yaroviy, who gets a considerable start on me due to his classification.”
Third place went to Trygve Steinar Larsen of Norway in a time of 2:47.23. Canada’s Cameron just missed the podium with a career-best fourth in 2:47.76.
“Tactically I could have done a few things a little differently in the finals, but overall this was an excellent day for me, and I’m very happy with this result for just my third ever sprint race in Europe,” said Cameron, a 28-year-old World Championships rookie and former sledge hockey player, according to a Canadian team press release. “To get this close to my first podium obviously encourages me to use everything I learned from today to make myself better and ski smarter in the future.”
American Aaron Pike also competed in Sunday’s sitting sprint, finishing in ninth overall in a time of 2:46.62 after being eliminated in the semifinals. A second Canadian competed in the sit sprint, with Sebastien Fortier finishing in 17th in a time of 3:06.33.
Ukraine’s Ihor Reptyukh won the men’s standing sprint, crossing first in a time of 2:50.53. Witold Skupien of Poland earned silver in a time of 2:52.38, while Ukraine’s Vovchynskyi took bronze in a time of 2:54.84.
Moving up from her second place in Saturday’s event was Ukraine’s Liashenko, who won the women’s standing cross-country sprint in a time of 3:21.05. Her teammate Kononova also earned her second medal of the week with a silver place finish in a time of 3:19.82. Rounding out the all-Ukraine podium in third was Iryna Bui, who crossed in a time of 3:36.30.
“I worked very hard, corrected the mistakes from previous races and this is consequence of that,” Liashenko said according to an IPC press release.
Canada’s Young took sixth in a time of 3:42.64.
“It was not perfect, but better than yesterday,” Young said, according to a team press release. “I came in with a fresh slate and ready for a fight. I had a race plan and knew the course well. The races got better each time and it was encouraging to hang on to some of the fastest skiers for longer than I could in the past. I am happy with where I am in the sprinting field this far in my career.”
Sweden’s Zebastian Modin claimed first in the men’s visually impaired sprint, crossing in a time of 2:46.76. Ukraine’s Utkin earned his second medal in a row, crossing second in a time of 2:54.35. France’s Thomas Clarion took the final men’s visually impaired podium spot, crossing third in a time of 2:52.85.
“One year ago, I was thinking of throwing the skis into the fire, of retiring because of so many injuries I suffered,” Modin said according to an IPC press release. “And now being here is amazing.”
The women’s visually impaired cross-country sprint went to Austria’s Carina Edlinger, who crossed in a time of 3:26.42 for the win. Second place was taken by Ukraine’s Shyshkova, while third went to Belarus’s Sviatlana Sakhanenka in a time of 3:29.75.
After a rest day on Monday, athletes return to the venue for Day 3 of competition with individual (long-distance) biathlon races.
Update: On Tuesday, Arendz racked up another medal — silver — in the men’s 15 k standing individual biathlon event.
“After crossing the finish line, all I could initially think about was the single miss (in shooting), and the fact I let the gold slip through my fingers,” Arendz said, according to a press release. “But I quickly warmed up to the fact that I had won a World Championship silver medal.”
Also with her second podium in three races, Masters finished third in the 12.5 k sitting individual biathlon event. Pike notched a career-best fourth in the men’s 15 k sitting biathlon event, just ahead of Canada’s Zaplotinsky, who recorded a career-best fifth. Soule followed in seventh.
Hudak raced to fifth in the women’s standing 12.5 k biathlon race.
— Alex Kochon contributed