Challenging conditions lead to stunning performances 21 Mar 2018
Brian McKeever (R) and guide Russell Kennedy celebrate their third gold of PyeongChang 2018
By Louise Wood | For the IPC
The cross-country races in PyeongChang have seen some fantastic racing and excellent performances across all three categories. The week began with the long distance race followed by the sprint, the middle distances and finally the relays.
There were some challenging conditions for the skiers with the weather turning from cold to warm and back to cold again. It made one of most difficult sports even harder but that did not stop some stunning performances on the tracks.
Saving his best for the last day of competition was home favourite Eui Hyun Sin. He won a bronze in the cross country sitting 15km but in the 7.5km he took the victory sending the home crowd wild. It was an emotional win for Sin as there was a lot of pressure on him to deliver medals for his country.
USA’s Oksana Masters had a difficult build up to these Games. She injured her elbow a few weeks before arriving in PyeongChang and was not able to ski to her full potential. It got worse for her when she fell in the biathlon middle distance race hurting the elbow in the same place and could not finish the race.
Her bid to win her first gold medal looked destined for failure but she turned everything around in the sprint race. She qualified with the fastest time, she won her semi-final and dominated the final. It was a special moment for the 28-year-old to win the gold after such disappointment earlier in the week.
The sprint races provided the best action of the whole Nordic programme at the Alpensia stadium. The first final, the men’s sitting race, was a four way sprint for glory. Coming from behind at a terrific speed was USA’s Andrew Soule who overtook three competitors in the final straight to win the gold. However the decision went to a photo finish with Dzmitry Loban of Belarus just missing out.
The men’s standing sprint also featured a photo finish for third place this time between Canada’s Mark Arendz and Finland’s Ilkka Tuomisto. Arendz changed tracks on the straight and looked to have lost momentum but finished strongly to lung for the line. The two could not be separated by the photo and so both were awarded bronze.
Canadian cross-country legend Brian McKeever came to his final Paralympic Games as an athlete determined to add more gold medals to his already impressive collection of eleven. The 38-year-old did exactly that with some great skiing to stop the young skiers in the field from taking his titles. He won all three cross-country races in Sochi and defended all of those titles here in PyeongChang to become the most successful cross-country skier in Paralympic history.
It was good to see so many up and coming talented young skiers in PyeongChang making up the next generation of champions. Canada’s Natalie Wilkie won the cross country standing 7.5km race after taking bronze in the sprint and also silver in the Mixed Relay. At just 17 years old she is one of the youngest female competitors in the field along with fellow 17-year-old Vilde Nilsen from Norway who won silver in the cross-country sprint.
Fifteen-year-old Brazilian wonderkid Cristian Ribera made history for his country finishing 6th in the cross country long distance race surprising everyone. It was the best finish ever for a Brazilian at the Winter Paralympics. He also finished a creditable 9th in the 5km.
The official website for PyeongChang 2018 can be found here.