Birgit Skarstein of Norway staged a major upset in the women’s sitting middle distance race as she claimed her first World Cup gold of the season.
To do so, the 28-year-old beat out three neutral athletes who swept the medals in all the biathlon events at the World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup in Vuokatti, Finland just days before.
The second and third spot on the podium went to Marta Zainullina and Irina Guliaeva - two of the most dominant athletes at the World Cup this season. Nadezhda Fedorova, who had back-to-back bronze medals in the earlier biathlon sprint and individual races, finished fourth as Skarstein bumped her off the podium.
Skarstein claimed several podium places at the previous two World Cup stages, in Canmore, Canada and Oberried, Germany, but in Vuokatti she finally reached the top by a slim margin of less than six seconds over Zainullina.
A top result was more expected - but no less emotional - for Zebastian Modin in the men’s vision impaired event. The Swedish skiing specialist was the overall World Cup leader in cross-country last season, but has struggled to reach the podium throughout the past months.
His victory in the middle distance event in Vuokatti was the first gold medal for Modin this season and a much needed confidence booster as he goes for his first Paralympic gold medal at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games next month.
Dmytro Suiarko and Anatolii Kovalevskyi finished second and third in the middle distance event to continue the successful streak Ukrainian athletes have enjoyed since the start of the races in Vuokatti. For Suiarko, it was his first medal at the World Cup after finishing just off the podium in the biathlon individual two days prior.
It was also a good race day for the Ukrainian team in the women’s vision impaired event where Oksana Shyshkova and Olha Prylutska finished first and third, respectively.
Young star Carina Edlinger of Austria also proved once again that she can race with the most experienced skiers, earning a second place on the podium.
There was another Ukrainian winner in the men’s standing race as Ihor Reptyukh skied ahead of neutral athletes Rushan Minnegulov and Vladislav Lekomtsev, who were among the heavy favourites in the event.
Neutral athlete Ekaterina Rumyantseva started off the last World Cup cross-country competition of the season with a solid gold in the middle distance where she outraced her teammate Anna Milenina by more than 30 seconds. The two athletes have been neck-and-neck for most of the World Cup races with Rumyantseva more often getting a slight upper edge.
Ukraine’s Yuliia Batenkova-Bauman finished with a bronze to add to her silver and bronze results from the earlier biathlon competitions in Vuokatti.
Meanwhile, neutral athlete Ivan Golubkov continued his triumphant run in the men’s sitting events, earning yet another gold in the cross-country, thus also solidifying his claim to the overall World Cup title in the cross-country events. He already won the overall title in biathlon this season.
His teammate Aleksandr Davidovich, who came second to Golubkov in Canmore but beat him in Oberried, was once again second in Vuokatti.
Ukraine’s teenage star Taras Rad finished the sitting race with a bronze, to add to his gold and silver from the weekend’s biathlon events.
The World Cup finals continue on Thursday (8 February) with the cross-country sprint races.
Complete and live results can be found on World Para Nordic Skiing’s website.