“It is my second home ground, so it is great to be back here once again. I am looking forward to competitions, especially biathlon races where I want to be on the podium. I want to succeed here on my way towards a gold medal in Sochi.”
Over 130 athletes from 13 countries will compete in Vuokatti, Finland, from Wednesday (8 January) in the second IPC Nordic Skiing World Cup of the season.
With less than 60 days to go until the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, athletes in Vuokatti will compete in two days of cross-country events and then two days of biathlon races. In between both disciplines will be a rest day.
In December, Russia dominated the first World Cup event in Canmore, Canada, claiming 30 first-place finishes across all distances and classes. It is likely they will not have it all their own way in Finland however, with many Ukrainian World and Paralympic medalists competing in their first World Cup of the season.
The women’s short course standing biathlon event is set to be one of the highlights of the meet with Ukrainian Iuliia Batenkova going head-to-head with Russian Anna Milenina. The two finished first and second at last year’s World Championships over the distance and, with Batenkova’s teammate Iryna Bui - the middle distance biathlon world champion – and Japanese Paralympic silver medal winner Shoko Oto also in the mix, a close and thrilling race is expected.
For 24-year-old Oto, Vuokatti is an important stepping stone ahead of March’s Paralympic Winter Games.
“It is my second home ground, so it is great to be back here once again. I am looking forward to competitions, especially biathlon races where I want to be on the podium. I want to succeed here on my way towards a gold medal in Sochi,” Oto said.
The men’s short course standing biathlon is also set to be equally exciting with Canadian Mark Arendz, 23 - the world champion in the event – going up against 19-year old Ukrainian Ihor Reptyukh, who is the world champion over the slightly longer distance.
In the sitting cross-country races, 30-year-old Ukrainian Olena Iurkovska - a winner of four Paralympic titles from Torino in 2006 – will face sprint, middle and long distance winner from Canmore, Norwegian Mariann Marthinsen.
Finnish podium hopeful and Vancouver 2010 bronze medallist in the sprint classic, Ilkka Tuomisto, heads out in the men’s cross-country middle distance classic standing against reigning World champion Russian Vladislav Lekomtcev.
Russia’s bright young star 21-year-old Mikhalina Lysova, World champion across all distances in the biathlon and sprint classic and middle distance cross-country, and Elena Remizova, long distance cross country World champion, are both not to be missed in the visually impaired events following impressive starts to the season in Canmore with several podium finishes.
Chief of Competition Jyri Pelkonen is confident the course, one of the forerunners in using artificial snow, is ready to receive the high calibre field of athletes:
“We are using the first snow track for the competitions. We hope for a bit of snowfall or even rain for preparing the tracks as it would make the surface harder. In general everything is as it should be at this point, and we have nothing to worry about. Also temperatures seem to be pleasant all days too so cold weather shouldn’t be an issue.”
Shortly after Vuokatti, athletes will head to Germany for the final World Cup events before Sochi 2014 begins on 7 March, to Obertsdorf for cross-country events from 16-19 January and Oberried from 23-26 January for biathlon races.
Start lists and results can be found throughout the competitions in Vuokatti at event website.