“Modin especially showed he’s the guy who has been coming up for years, and he gets better every year. So it’s still good to race against him and feel like I’m competitive in the sprints."
Some of the world’s best Para Nordic skiers enjoyed their first World Cup outing of the season on Friday (9 December), with athletes from Japan, Canada, the USA and Ukraine securing sprint cross-country wins in Vuokatti, and two podium finishes for hosts Finland.
In the women’s sitting the USA’s Oksana Masters claimed first, fresh from competing in cycling at September’s Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
“It was really good, really unexpected,” Masters, the World Championships bronze medallist, said. “I just came off Rio and I only had a few weeks to train from cycling to skiing and especially on snow - we were only on snow for three weeks. I was so nervous, I had no expectations at all. I’m really, really shocked and excited.”
Masters was also pleased to compete against an ever-deepening field of athletes. This included Norway’s second-place finisher Birgit Skarstein, who also competed at Rio 2016 in rowing.
“I love the challenge. I’m so excited to see so many different classes of women’s sit skiers out here which makes it so fun,” Masters said. “The final was really fun.”
Finland’s Sini Pyy completed the podium for the hosts in third.
Ukraine reached the top of the podium three times, beginning their season well ahead of the 2017 World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Finsterau, Germany, in February.
World champion Maksym Yarovyi led Norway’s Trygve Steiner Larsen in the men’s sitting. Belarusian Dzmitry Loban claimed his first cross-country podium in third.
Oksana Shyskova got her season off to a winning start over 2.5km in the women’s visually impaired with guide Vitalii Kazakov.
Austria’s Carina Edlinger was not far behind in second guided by Julian Josef Edlinger, in only her first World Cup race. Germany’s Clara Klug was third with guide Florian Grimm.
Grigorii Vovchynskyi claimed maximum points in the men’s standing, rounding off Ukraine’s trio of wins. Finland’s Ilkka Tuomisto joined teammate Pyy in celebrating a top three finish on home snow with second. Canada’s Mark Arendz was third.
Japanese 21-year-old Yurika Abe celebrated her first World Cup win in the women’s standing: “I am really surprised. It was a good time for me!”
Ukraine’s Yuliia Batenkova, the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games silver medallist, was second. Canada’s Emily Young also enjoyed her first World Cup podium finish with third.
Young’s world and Paralympic champion compatriot Brian McKeever returned to the Para Nordic World Cup circuit with a win in his first sprint outing since 2014 in the men’s visually impaired.
Sweden’s Zebastian Modin, the second place finisher guided by Johannes Andersson, impressed 10-time Paralympic gold medallist McKeever:
“Modin especially showed he’s the guy who has been coming up for years, and he gets better every year. So it’s still good to race against him and feel like I’m competitive in the sprints. The long distances are usually better. I’m happy, it was a good day. The skis were great, the technicians did a good job and everyone is in good spirits.”
Iurii Utkin completed Ukraine’s haul of five podium finishes in third, with guide Ruslan Perekhoda.
The Para Nordic skiing World Cup continues in Vuokatti on Saturday (10 December) with the biathlon sprint and runs until 16 December.
Results can be viewed at IPC Nordic Skiing’s website.