With the 2016/2017 season officially in the rearview, FasterSkier is excited to unveil its annual award winners for this past winter. Votes stem from the FS staff, scattered across the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and while not scientific, they are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review. This set of honors goes to outstanding Para-Nordic skiers on the IPC World Cup circuit.
Previous categories: Junior Skiers of the Year | Collegiate Skiers of the Year | Canadian Continental Skiers of the Year | U.S. Continental Skiers of the Year | Nordic Combined Athlete of the Year | Biathletes of the Year
Oksana Masters, U.S. Paralympics Nordic
Six medals in seven days. Four of them gold. Never before had a U.S. athlete taken home four gold medals from a World Para Nordic Skiing Championships, but U.S. Paralympics Nordic A-team member Oksana Masters changed all that.
The 27-year-old sit skier racked up six World Championships medals in Finsterau, Germany, including her second-career biathlon win in the women’s 6 k sprint (her first came earlier this season in the first biathlon race of the year).
“I am completely shocked,” Masters told media outlets after the sprint. “I entered this race with no expectations. I went from not being sure if I was going to be able to race the last two days to winning my first gold medal in biathlon. I’m so excited! I cannot wait to let this all soak in.”
But Masters didn’t just dominate the world champs scene. After ending last season undefeated in every International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Cup cross-country race she entered, she almost did it again, winning all but one cross-country race this winter (she placed second in the last cross-country race of the season).
“I feel like I had a pretty great season, especially coming off training for a complete other sport that uses a complete opposite motion not too long ago,” Masters said, according to a U.S. Paralympics press release, referring to her handcycling training for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“I’m really happy with my season and my training,” she added. “I feel extremely hopeful to have to good races in PyeongChang next year.”
Brian McKeever, Canadian Para-Nordic Skiing
At 37, Canada’s Brian McKeever is a team veteran and a world leader in para-nordic skiing. In 2010, he became the first athlete in the world to be named to both Olympic and Paralympic teams. In his three Winter Paralympics, he’s accumulated 13 medals, 10 of them gold.
And this year, after turning his focus to the overseas Ski Classics marathon series, he earned his 18th and 19th IPC World Championships gold, winning both the men’s 10 k and 20 k visually impaired races. Prior to that, he won the season-opening IPC World Cup sprint in Vuokatti, Finland. By the end of the season, he also qualified for and competed in the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup Finals in Quebec City, Quebec.
“I think putting the focus on Ski Classics this year was really interesting. From struggling to hit the top 40 to suddenly to be able to ski with the leaders this year, that was good,” McKeever said after his final race at World Cup Finals.
“I am learning as well in that, and I see the opportunities there with the older guys that are still at the top and that is highly motivating for a guy that is maybe beyond his peak, at least as far as age goes, but I am still having fun and still learning,” he added. “So that is motivating for me, to continually learn something when I am out racing.”
Honorable Mention: Mark Arendz, Canadian Para-Nordic Skiing
Canada’s Mark Arendz, now 27, also opened his World Championships week with a win for his second world title and first podium at a top-level international race (in a non-Paralympic year) in three years after winning the men’s 12.5 k standing biathlon race.
He earned four more world champs medals, including a biathlon sprint gold, a biathlon individual silver, a cross-country bronze, and a relay bronze.
“It has been an incredible season for me, but most noticeably I have brought my shooting back,” Arendz wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “It is now a strength and no longer holding me back. The other huge take away is I now have the confidence in my ski speed to be competitive in any Cross Country race.”
“The highlights from the season for me were World Championships and the 10km Classic in Korea,” Arendz continued. “Worlds were fantastic for me. Five medals from six races; the confidence was there and I was in the best shape of the year. I carried that shape into the test event in Korea. For two out of three laps I was having my best classic race ever. After a little stumble I couldn’t regain my focus, but until then I had the confidence that I could win a Classic race. I will grasp that belief into the training season.”