Oksana Masters won her first gold at the 2017 World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup in biathlon, after just missing out in all three of her favoured cross-country races.
The US athlete finally topped the podium in the women's individual sitting on Thursday (14 December), which kicked off three days of biathlon competition in Canmore, Canada.
The victory was a surprise, first of all for Masters herself since she is used to seeing biathlon as the weaker of her Nordic skiing disciplines.
“It feels absolutely shocking to be on top of the podium in a biathlon race,” Masters said. “All the best shooters and skiers are here. To be in the mix and giving them a run for their money is shocking to me. I am so used to chasing them and trying to hang on with them. They are my motivation.”
The win was also sweet redemption for Masters who finished just short of top spot in the cross-country sitting middle and long distance races, which took place earlier in Canmore. There Masters lost to Germany’s Andrea Eskau and collected two silver medals.
Masters also came frustratingly close to winning in the sprint where she finished first, but was later disqualified for a false start.
But in the first biathlon race of the World Cup, Masters was simply unstoppable. She led each of the five laps on the 12.5 km course and finished the race in 46:00.9 minutes, almost two minutes ahead of Marta Zainullina and Irina Guliaeva, who are competing as neutral athletes.
Eskau, Masters’s main rival in the cross-country events, finished fourth after missing three shots on the first two laps.
Masters also struggled with shooting in previous years, but her extra training in the shooting range ahead of the Paralympic season paid off when she finished the individual race with only two missed shots.
“This is the place where, there first time I did biathlon, I missed all five shots and lost count in the penalty loop and did six loops,” Masters recalled. “To go from there to here, in a tricky range, is good.”
Working on mental strength also helped Masters improve her results in biathlon.
“I’ve been working a lot with a sports psychologist on the mentality side of it. That’s been a huge help for me,” she said. “I’m a very passionate person, so when I miss a shot, I get frustrated.”
On the men’s side, Benjamin Daviet continued his golden World Cup streak on the biathlon course. The French skier already picked up gold medals in both of his standing cross-country races, and carried the momentum through to the biathlon individual event.
Daviet completed the race without missing a single shot, even when strong winds on the last lap made shooting especially challenging. In the end, however, it was Daviet’s skiing that earned him the victory since both second and third place finishers, Canada's Mark Arendz and neutral athlete Aleksandr Pronkov, also cruised through each shooting challenge.
“I’m very happy with the race today,” Daviet said. “I did the job in the shooting range like I wanted to do. On skis, I started slowly, like I wanted, and was able to finish very, very strong.”
It was the first medal for one of Canada’s strongest Nordic skiers, Arendz, at the home World Cup. The Canadian finished off the podium in his two cross-country races, but capitalised on his familiarity with the local shooting range to came back strong in the first biathlon event.
“It was a good race, but there was room for sharpening,” Arendz said. “Being the first Para biathlon race of the year, it’s interesting to see where everyone is.”
“I died a little towards the end - a little more than I want or hope,” he added. “I was feeling good enough in the range. I can push that a little bit more. Being the individual, with a minute penalty for every miss, I made sure I hit today.”
Fellow Canadian Brittany Hudak also earned her first medal at the World Cup after two fifth places in the cross-country events. The bronze in the standing individual biathlon race was her first at a major international competition.
“It’s nice for the third race to have a podium finish,” Hudak said. “It solidifies my trust in the process.”
Hudak was the only one of nine competitors who did not miss a single shot in the range. However, she lagged behind the top two finishers, neutral athletes Ekaterina Rumyantseva and Anna Milenina, in skiing speed and ultimately finished almost three and a half minutes behind the leader.
“I need to be a little more efficient on the skis,” she said. “It’s a balance between keeping the tempo and the glide. When I tried to focus on the long glide, I really wasn’t gliding that well. I think fine tuning ski efficiency is key.”
The biathlon competition of the 2017 World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup continues with the sprint and pursuit events on 16 and 17 December, respectively.