2018 Winter Paralympics (PyeongChang, South Korea): 12.5/15 k biathlon races
Canada’s Mark Arendz captured his first Paralympic gold, the sixth Paralympic medal of his career and his fourth medal of the PyeongChang Games on Friday in the men’s 15-kilometer individual standing biathlon race — the longest and final biathlon event on the schedule.
Meanwhile, Dan Cnossen of the U.S. continued his medal streak with his fifth medal in as many races, taking silver in the men’s 15 k sitting biathlon. His teammate Oksana Masters raced to silver for her fourth medal of the 2018 Games in the women’s 12.5 k sitting biathlon, and two Canadians earned bronze with Collin Cameron placing third in the men’s 15 k sitting and Brittany Hudak taking her first Paralympic medal in the women’s 12.5 k sitting.
Arendz, 28, who placed second and third in two biathlon races at the 2014 Paralympics and once again finished second and third in two previous biathlon events at these Games, cleaned all four shooting stages to secure the win in 42:52.2 minutes. France’s Benjamin Daviet took silver, 58.3 second back, after missing one target (0+0+1+0) and having a minute penalty added to his time. Norway’s Nils-Erik Ulset shot clean for bronze, 1:14.5 behind Arendz.
“Every time I stepped on the podium this week, I kept thinking I want to hear ‘Paralympic Champion’ and then my name announced,” Arendz told Cross Country Canada, according to a press release. “I wanted nothing more than to hear my country’s anthem played. I’ve seen the maple leaf on top of the podium three times this week, but to finally have it behind the top step of the podium for me is an amazing feeling.”
In addition to his first gold, Arendz also took his first Paralympic medal in a cross-country race with bronze in the PyeongChang classic sprint.
“I wanted to be consistent and focus on the process all week. This race was my strength,” he said. “It is a shooting race and you have to go clean. The process was key today, and I just tried to make sure I hit those 20 targets. Once I got to that last bout I wasn’t going to miss, so I made sure of every shot before I pulled the trigger. In the end I was clean, the skiing was strong, and that is what I wanted.
“That completes the [medal] set for biathlon, and my first gold which means everything to me,” Arendz said of the last biathlon race of the 2018 Games.
Also in that men’s standing individual race, American Ruslan Reiter placed 15th with nine penalties.
Silver for Cnossen, Masters; Second Bronze for Cameron
In the men’s sitting biathlon event on Friday, Cnossen and Cameron raced to second (+45.5) and third (+1:01.9), respectively, behind Germany’s Martin Fleig in first. Fleig shot clean and finished in 49:57.2, while Cnossen missed one in the last stage (0+0+0+1) and Cameron had a single miss in the second shooting (0+1+0+0). The silver was Cnossen’s third of these Paralympics, and he medaled in every biathlon race in PyeongChang (taking gold in the 7.5 k and silver in the 12.5 k).
“This is special because, for one, the conditions were so difficult,” Cnossen explained in an interview with U.S. Paralympics Nordic. “It’s snowing, it’s cold. It’s 30-40 degrees colder than yesterday. I’m getting a little bit tired. I had a bit of a mental battle this morning waking up. I was considering pulling out of the race because I really want to be fresh for tomorrow, so to overcome that and still put up a really solid performance is really quite good. I wish I could have cleaned that last stage – I missed one shot. Then I just really tried to hammer on that last lap.”
While the biathlon races are over, Saturday holds middle-distance cross-country races in PyeongChang.
“I have an excerpt that says it doesn’t matter how you feel today, it doesn’t matter what your background is or where you’re coming from, all that matters is what you can do,” said Cnossen, a 37-year-old retired Navy SEAL who was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Valor from the Secretary of the Navy for his service in combat.
“I just tried to focus on what I could do today,” he continued. “Not the fact that I didn’t sleep well last night, that doesn’t matter. Just go out there and perform like I know I can.”
“I have an excerpt that says it doesn’t matter how you feel today, it doesn’t matter what your background is or where you’re coming from, all that matters is what you can do.” — Dan Cnossen, U.S. Paralympian and former Navy SEAL, after racing to his fifth medal of the 2018 Paralympics
Cameron, 29, achieved his second bronze medal of the Games after placing third in the biathlon sprint then coming close in fourth in Wednesday’s cross-country sprint.
“This is awesome. This one is the sweetest one for sure,” Cameron said, according to a team press release. “That was a little redemption after the sprint day because I really wanted that one.
“I got very little sleep last night. I just couldn’t seem to settle,” he continued. “My coach told me some of the best athlete performances have happened after a bad night of sleep. I told myself to just settle down. I got the bugs out in that first lap, focused on pacing in every lap and just kept pushing.
“I came here wanting to get on the podium in cross country, and I’m going home with two biathlon medals. I didn’t expect that at all,” Cameron added.
Also in that men’s sitting biathlon race, Aaron Pike placed sixth with perfect shooting and Andy Soule finished ninth with four penalties (0+0+4+0).
In the women’s sitting biathlon individual, both Masters and Germany’s Andrea Eskau shot clean, but Eskau completed the course faster to claim gold in 49:41.2. Masters finished 18.8 seconds back for silver, her second biathlon medal of the Games, and Lidziya Hrafeyava of Belarus finished third (+1:15.8) with one penalty (0+1+0+0).
“I went from getting a sunburn a couple days ago during the sprints to freezing right now,” Masters, 28, said of Friday’s conditions to U.S. Paralympics. “The skiing is great, our skis are amazing, the team is amazing putting together some fast skis. I’m so happy I got a chance to redeem myself from the last biathlon race I didn’t get to finish.”
Masters did not finish the women’s 10 k biathlon race earlier in the week. She has been racing with an elbow injury throughout the Games.
“The way I looked at it, I wasn’t going to get defeated by this elbow,” she said. “I definitely know I wasn’t skiing at 100 percent, but I wanted to see where I was. I’ve trained four years, the day after Sochi ended. I counted the days, it was like 1,461 days – not that I’m counting – but I was not going to let that basically take away from my Games experience here.”
As for hitting all 20 targets on Friday, Masters said she was in the zone.
“I just focused on that ‘breathe, exhale, pause, squeeze,’ which is everything I’ve been training and practicing,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. I almost fell going around the corner telling my coach ‘I cleaned!’ I can’t believe it.”
In three biathlon races in PyeongChang, the U.S. team tallied seven medals. Going into these Games, the U.S. had one biathlon medal (Soule’s bronze from 2010) in the history of the Paralympics and Olympics.
Hudak Makes History with Biathlon Bronze
In the women’s 12.5 k standing biathlon race, Hudak notched her first Paralympic medal and Canada’s first in a women’s standing biathlon event in third place, 2:23.9 behind Anna Milenina of the Neutral Paralympic Athletes (NPA) in first and 1:20.1 behind Ekaterina Rumyantseva (NPA) in second. While Milenina overcame two minutes of penalties (0+1+0+1) to take gold in 38:56.8 and Rumyantseva had two misses as well (0+2+0+0), Hudak shot clean.
“This is such an unreal day. There are so many emotions,” Hudak said, according to the team press release. “I just tried to think about the process throughout the race. I wanted to focus on shooting because I knew it was going to make a difference today.”
As she left the range in fourth after her last shooting stage, Hudak got a lift from her teammate Emily Young, who pushed to catch her and pull her around the final loop. Together, they clawed back five seconds and Hudak finished third, 3.7 seconds ahead of Ukraine’s Iryna Bui in fourth.
“I’m just so lost for words. It is so incredible,” Hudak, 24, said. “I knew I was in the medal mix heading into that last lap. Everyone was screaming at me to keep going. Emily kept yelling at me the whole way around, and I just tried to hang onto her. I was breathing so hard and gave it everything I had. I was so tired at the finish and wanted to collapse.”
Young finished the race in seventh with two penalties (1+0+1+0).
“I was hearing the splits around the course, and I knew after my second round of shooting I was out of the top four and there was a big gap,” Young, 27, reflected. “I just chased Britt down on the course, and once I caught her, started screaming at her to follow me and not get dropped. I was breaking the wind for her the whole way. I was pretty tired on that last lap, but just kept skiing hard and screaming at her to follow. I don’t know where I found the energy.
“She did awesome. Britt is my right-arm girl,” Young added. “I’m so proud of her. We both work so hard and I know how many hours she put into this. I’m just as excited for her as I would be for myself.”
The Paralympics enter their final weekend with middle-distance cross-country races on Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. Korea time (9 p.m. EDT on Friday), and conclude with mixed and open relays on Sunday.