It was a fantastic start to the Para Nordic season in Vuokatti, Finland, with some outstanding individual performances and strong teams in action. As we prepare for the second World Cup of the season in Ostersund, Sweden, on Sunday, here is a reminder of what we learned from the first one.
Norway started the season in some style, collecting seven gold medals and four silvers. Birgit Skarstein was the first to strike winning the first two women's sitting cross-country races. She followed that up with a silver in the sprint. In the women's standing 17-year-old Vilde Nilsen swept all three cross-country races and helped herself to silver in both the biathlon sprint and class start. Nils-Erik Ulset took two golds and a silver in the men's standing biathlon to complete their impressive medal haul.
Paralympic champion Daniel Cnossen led a very talented US sit-ski team at the first World Cup. He won a medal in all six races; four golds in the cross-country middle, cross-county short, biathlon middle and biathlon class start and two bronze medals in the cross-country sprint and biathlon middle.
Kendall Gretsch backed him up winning all the women’s biathlon races and finishing second in the cross-country short. Oksana Masters also made an impressive return to action after elbow surgery in the summer to win the cross-country sprint and take silver in the biathlon class start and bronze in the sprint.
After surprising everyone at the Winter Paralympics in PyeongChang the Brazilian cross-country ski team made it onto the World Cup podium for the first time in Vuokatti. Aline Rocha and Cristian Ribera both won bronze in the cross-country middle before Ribera went one better with a silver medal in the short distance.
VI rivalries heat up
There are many close rivalries in the vision impaired class this season. In the men's cross-country Canada's Brian McKeever and Sweden's Zebastian Modin traded blows with Modin coming out on top with two wins to McKeever's one. Ukrainian Oksana Shyshkova faces tough competition on two fronts. Austria’s Carina Edlinger got the better of her in two of the three cross-country races and Germany's Clara Klug did the same in biathlon.
Kononova back on track
Ukraine's Oleksandra Kononova returned to winning ways after missing the Paralympic Games. She got off to a good start in cross-country winning a silver and bronze medal. But it was in the biathlon that she excelled winning all three races. She is the one to beat in biathlon this season but faces stiff competition from her teammate Liudmyla Liashenko and Norway's young star Vilde Nilsen.
An exciting new event
A brand new race in biathlon, the class start, was debuted in Finland. It was an instant hit with the competitiors giving them the chance to race head to head rather than against the clock. It provided some close races and some exciting finishes and looks like a great addition to the biathlon calendar.
The World Cup continues with round two in Ostersund from 12-19 January.