The 2017 World Para Nordic Skiing Championships are an important event for all athletes but this coming season they hold special significance for one group in particular.
They will be held in Finsterau from 10-19 February, giving German skiers the chance to compete in front of a national audience. For one young athlete it is not just a home event but only the second time she will ever have raced in any major Championships.
Clara Klug, 21, is one of Germany’s youngest competitors. Blind since birth, she competes in the visually impaired races in both cross-country and biathlon. She is looking forward to her home race but with some differing emotions.
“For the World Championships in Finsterau I feel both excitement and some pressure, since also family and friends are going to be there. But I think that has to be the case for a home World Championships,” explained Klug. “I want to achieve several top five results and maybe, on a good day, even a medal.”
These are bold targets for such a young athlete but they are not without foundation. Last season was really successful for Klug alongside her guide Martin Hartl.
Klug made the podium three times in biathlon coming third in all World Cup races in Tyumen, Russia. She also achieved her best result for the season in the long distance cross-country race.
“My personal best race was the 15km race in Tyumen,” Klug said. “The year before, I could hardly finish the long distance race. In Tyumen I finished 4th with the smallest distance to first place I have ever achieved. So that was a big personal progression.”
Klug ended the season fifth in the overall biathlon World Cup and sixth in cross-country. Her achievements are even more impressive when you consider that her summer training was not as good as she had hoped for.
“My preparation for the season wasn't very good,” she said. “First my shoulder was injured, then I did an internship for my studies and so we always tried to have high-quality training sessions to use the little time we had. I wanted to prove my position in the German team and, eventually, get a medal. I achieved both.”
It will not be easy to win a medal in Finsterau for Klug as there is a lot of competition in the visually impaired category, not least from her own teammate Vivian Hoesch. Although they are competitors on the tracks Klug has the opportunity to benefit from their experience.
“Vivi and I only see each other in national practice camps. It's good to have someone to compare myself with during the year,” Klug said. “She has been competing for longer than I have, and so I can learn something from her.”
As well as learning from her compatriot there are also things Klug has learned about herself just by competing in the World Cup.
“Your mind is one of the most important factors in a race. If you are relaxed, without creating pressure for yourself, you can achieve more than you would think.”
Even if the World Championships are her main focus for this season she is also hoping to do well when the next Paralympic Winter Games come around in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018.
“I want to show my best performance,” she said. “And maybe I can even give the others something to worry about.”
The 2017 World Para Nordic Skiing Championships will gather the world’s best biathletes and cross-country skiers with just over one year to go until the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.