Only one medal was missing for the Canadian team to get a sweep at the home World Cup in Canmore as the team’s female power trio rushed to the finish line in the cross-country sprint.
For Brittany Hudak it was the second gold at the World Cup in Canmore, which is hosting three cross-country and three biathlon races from 4-12 December. The standing skier tied for gold with her teammate Natalie Wilkie in an earlier short-distance race but claimed the victory in the sprint classic as her own.
“I had a really solid training year this year and last year,” Hudak said. “I felt pretty strong in my classic skiing this past year, so I knew there could be potential for a good race. I would never have thought I would take a victory in the sprint race so it was really fun to be out there. To have all three of us standing women in the final makes it a lot of fun.”
Hudak and Wilkie skied together for the entire race and crossed the finish line less than a second apart.
“Me and Brittany have been training neck and neck pretty much the entire year so it was pretty exciting to see on Saturday how we tied for gold and then again today how close we were in times with the sprint,” Wilkie said.
“On the course, Brittany was behind me for most of it. I could hear her breathing so she was right on my heels, which was pretty stressful and it pushed me to go farther - harder, faster - but she got me in the end.”
RUMYANTSEVA RUINS THE CANADIAN PARTY
The women’s standing sprint final in Canmore brought back memories of the same race at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games where half of the finalists were also from Canada.
“It was awesome, just to have three women in the finals is great, but to have three women in the top four is even better,” said Wilkie, who won a bronze in the PyeongChang 2018 sprint.
“We were thinking that we might even be able to do a Canadian sweep. It was pretty close today but unfortunately it didn’t happen.”
While the Canadian trio managed to overcome frontrunner Ekaterina Rumyantseva, another Russian skier Iuliia Mikheeva finished ahead of Canada’s Emily Young to take the bronze.
It might simply not have been Young’s day. The double Paralympic medallist looked at the wrong start list in the morning, which had her scrambling to make qualifications, and ultimately finished fourth.
“I knew we could all work together and get the energy off each other, and it worked. I just couldn’t hold on for the last little bit,” Young said. “We work together so well. Our personalities work together really well. We train all the time, we encourage each other on and off the course and I think that’s what makes us so successful is that we want the best for each other.”
PODIUM FOR MASTERS AND GRETSCH
The Russian skiers, in turn, were denied a sweep in the women’s and men’s vision impaired races. In the women’s race, Germany’s Vivian Hoesch took bronze behind Anna Panferova and Margarita Tereshchenkova, while in the men’s race Sweden’s Zebastian Modin got between Oleg Ponomarev and Vladimir Udaltsov to take the silver medal.
“It was a tough day and ending up on the podium is always good,” the Swedish skier said. “Today was quite challenging. The classic tracks were a bit hard to manage, but I think it was a good track. It’s a tough one and quite long so I think the strongest guy won.”
The USA also picked up two medals from the sprints, with Oksana Masters and Kendall Gretsch taking gold and bronze, respectively, while Russia’s Marta Zainullina raced to silver.
While the Canadian women were not able to accomplish a sweep in Canmore, the Russian standing men did sweep their sprint race with Vladislav Lekomtsev leading the charge, followed by teammates Vitalii Malyshev and Aleksandr Pronkov.
The tables turned in biathlon, however, as France’s Benjamin Daviet won a long-awaited gold in the individual race, which opened the biathlon competition at the 2021-22 World Cup.
Lekomtsev has remained undefeated since February 2020, but his three missed shots in the second half of the biathlon individual dropped him down to the fifth place. The French Paralympic biathlon champion, on the other hand, shot perfectly to take the gold and get revenge for missing the top spot by minimal margins last season.
RUSSIA'S GOLDEN HAUL IN BIATHLON
While Lekomtsev was unable to keep his winning streak, the Russians still proved themselves as the dominant force on the first day of biathlon competition, winning four of the six gold medals and getting a podium sweep in the men’s vision impaired class, led by Stanislav Chokhlaev.
Russia’s Ivan Golubkov shot clean to take gold in the men’s sitting race. This was his first gold medal in Canmore despite coming in as the overwhelming favourite. Italy’s Giuseppe Romele outraced the Russian skier in the earlier cross-country races while Canada’s Collin Cameron finished ahead of him in the sprint.
Ekaterina Rumyantseva and vision-impaired skier Vera Khlyzova completed Russia’s golden haul on the first day of biathlon racing.
In the women’s sitting class, USA’s Kendall Gretsch shot clean to win gold and break her teammate’s winning streak. Oksana Masters has not lost a World Cup race since February 2, 2020, but was second to Gretsch in the biathlon individual after missing two shots.
The World Cup in Canmore, Canada continues with the biathlon sprint and middle-distance events on 11-12 December. The races will be live streamed on the Para Snow Sports Facebook page and Paralympic Games YouTube account.
Full results from the Canmore races are available on the World Para Nordic Skiing website.