Star-studded field for Nordic Skiing World Cup opener
Lillehammer’s four cross country and two biathlon races to kick off 2019-20 competition11 Dec 2019
WHAT TO EXPECT: Action from the Prince George 2019 World Para Nordic Skiing championships
By Lena Smirnova | For World Para Nordic Skiing
The 2019-20 season of the World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup is promising to be a star-studded affair with the biggest names in cross country and biathlon set to race in the season’s opening competition in Lillehammer, Norway.
All of last season’s Crystal Globes winners and the vast majority of the medallists from the 2019 World Para Nordic Skiing Championships will take part in the competition, which will be held from 12 to 19 December and will consist of two biathlon and four cross country events.
The World Cup in Lillehammer will be the first of four World Cup stops in the 2019-20 season, which runs until March when Ostersund, Sweden hosts the final races.
ALL OF THE LIGHTS
Recognising the upcoming competition as the best opportunity to test out the venue of the 2021 Para Snow Sports World Championships, all of the top athletes are headed to Lillehammer.
These include 19 Paralympic champions from the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games as well as every Crystal Globe winner from last season.
The most decorated Paralympic cross-country skier of all time, Brian McKeever, will be aiming for a strong start to the season after missing the top three in the men’s visually impaired class last spring. But with his chief rivals also on the entry list, the task will not be an easy one for the veteran Canadian skier.
Notably among them are Sweden’s Zebastian Modin, who won the Crystal Globe in cross country last season, and Belarus’ Yury Holub, who has four Paralympic medals and is equally dangerous in cross country and biathlon disciplines.
Meanwhile, one of the sport’s rising stars, Taras Rad of Ukraine, will be going for a perfect record this season in the men’s sitting class. Known as a specialist in biathlon in which he won gold at PyeongChang 2018, the 20-year-old is now also picking up steam in cross country.
Rad was one spot away from clinching the Crystal Globe in cross country last season, behind USA’s stable threat Daniel Cnossen, and will be eager to crown his progress in 2020.
Old rivalries between teammates will be renewed in the upcoming season, starting with Lillehammer’s World Cup.
USA’s Oksana Masters and Kendall Gretsch are promising to serve up some great racing in the women’s sitting events. They each won a Crystal Globe last season, Masters in cross country and Gretsch in biathlon, and also share the distinction of being double Paralympic champions.
A similar teammate rivalry will play out for Ukraine in the women’s standing class. Oleksandra Kononova, Liudmyla Liashenko and Bohdana Konashuk swept the biathlon podium last season and all three are set to go on the start line again in Lillehammer.
The Ukrainian women are also top contenders in cross country. While Norway’s Vilde Nilsen managed to surpass them in the fight for the Crystal Globe, Kononova and her teammates occupied four of the top six spots in the discipline when the season came to a close.
RISE OF THE NORTH
Aside from Nilsen, the competition’s host country will have solid representation in women’s sit skier Birgit Skarstein, men’s VI skier Eirik Bye, and men’s standing skier Nils-Erik Ulset.
Skarstein and Bye were second overall in cross country last season - Skarstein only 30 points behind Masters - while Ulset was second overall in biathlon.
The 2019-20 season will see the return of Russian athletes, notably three-time Paralympic champion in women’s standing Ekaterina Rumyantseva, six-time champion in women’s VI Mikhalina Lysova, and two-time champion in men’s standing Rushan Minnegulov.
Lysova promises to shake up the dominance of German-speaking nations in the women’s VI races, where Germany’s Clara Klug won the biathlon Crystal Globe last season while Austria’s Carina Edlinger topped the overall standings in cross country.
Lysova’s teammate Minnegulov will be an equally serious threat to the star athlete of the men’s standing class, Benjamin Daviet. The Frenchman won the Crystal Globe in biathlon and was third overall in cross country in 2018-19, in addition to collecting a hefty load of five medals at PyeongChang 2018 - but all this without Minnegulov chasing him to the finish line.
The World Cup in Lillehammer begins on December 12 with the men’s and women’s short-distance cross-country races. Live results and highlights from the competition will be available on World Para Nordic Skiing’s website.