Zebastian Modin cradled the crystal trophy in his arm as he was pulled aside every now and then for photos, congratulatory wishes and media interviews. It was – or was supposed to be – a joyous scene for a local star winning a grand prize on home snow.
For the Swede, it felt hallow.
The World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup Finals were scheduled to begin on 17 March in Modin’s very own backyard in Ostersund. But it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Therefore the 2019-2020 World Cup winners were decided prematurely.
“It feels so empty to close it right now,” Modin admitted. “I really wanted to race and for sure I know the biathlon guys mostly were longing for the Champs."
The Para Biathlon World Championships were also planned to take off on 12 March in Ostersund. But, they were cancelled for the same reason.
The 25-year-old Swede was also going to race in the Para Biathlon Worlds, and he sympathised with those looking forward to it.
However, his focus was on cross-country – he won his fourth straight overall World Cup title – which was expected to be a hot battle in the men’s vision impaired division. The Ostersund crowd were ready to create an electrifying atmosphere and Modin was hoping to soak it all in.
Nevertheless, he understands the situation is not unique just to Sweden, as numerous sporting events around the world were cancelled.
“To finish here at home — it was set up for a hard fight with Brian (McKeever) and Stanislav (Chokhlaev),” Modin said. “So I did really look forward to that. But now it is what it is.”
Modin only had an 11-point lead in the rankings over Canada’s legendary McKeever, who dominated all three events (individual, middle and sprint) at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.
Russia’s Chokhlaev was about 200 points behind, but he has been king of the middle distance (7.5km) races and the one, Modin cautioned, not to take for granted.
Although the Swede won all three sprint races (1.2km) on the circuit to create a wedge in the rankings, he knew Chokhlaev and McKeever have been training for that day.
Had he beaten them in the Finals, winning the overall title might have been sweeter. But knowing he beat them fairly throughout the season is satisfying enough.
“I think it’s different because the Russians have not been racing all the races last seasons and McKeever has also been doing everything,” Modin commented when comparing this crystal globe to previous. “I think it’s even more worth when the strongest competitors have been racing as many races as you.”
He also added he was more physically fit and changes in training, like preparing for the annual 90km Vasaloppet, contributed to his successes.
As for his biathlon future, he is unsure.
“I’ve been struggling with the question for a couple of years now because I do like biathlon as a sport and I prefer to watch biathlon on TV than cross-country,” he contemplated. “Cross-country is my main focus and I don’t want the shooting to take anything away from my cross-country training.”