Germany’s Martin Fleig opened the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Finsterau in style on Saturday (11 February), peaking at the right time to claim his first world title for the hosts in the men’s middle distance biathlon sitting.
Fleig (37:31.0) dropped just one shot to improve on his bronze medal in the same event from the 2015 Worlds in Cable, USA.
“I cannot believe it, it is unreal for me, I do not know what is going on,” said Fleig, trying to soak up the atmosphere after his win. “I had a good race and I only missed one shot. Having my people cheering for me gives me extra power.”
Ukraine´s biathlon World Cup overall leader Taras Rad finished second with a time of 37:52.2, whilst South Korea´s Eui Hyun Sin (39:37.4) collected bronze.
In the women’s sitting Belarus´ Lidziya Hrafeyeva had only secured her first win in biathlon a few weeks ago, when she was the fastest in the sprint at a World Cup in Western Center, Ukraine.
But she proved that victory was not a one-off as she won gold again in the middle distance on Saturday.
“My first medal at a Worlds and it is gold. This is like a dream for me,” she said.
Hrafeyeva clocked 34:46.0 to finish ahead of Germany´s Paralympic champion Anja Wicker (36:22.1). Wicker´s compatriot Andrea Eskau (36:48.5) took bronze, adding to a great day for the Germans.
Canada´s Mark Arendz caused a major upset in the men’s standing, shooting clean to claim his second career world title.
The 26-year-old´s last victories had been in the same event at the Asia Cup in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2016, and in the long distance at a World Cup in Canmore, Canada, in 2013.
“This is something special for me and I am very happy,” said Arendz (30:39.3), who was followed onto the podium by France´s Benjamin Daviet (31:14.3) and Ukraine´s reigning Paralympic champion Grygorii Vovchynskyi (31:22.8).
The rest of the biathlon middle distance races were also full of excitement.
In the women´s standing, Ukraine´s Oleksandra Kononova confirmed why she is the defending champion in three distances, taking gold with a time of 31:41.5. Her teammate Lyudmila Liashenko (33:05.7) and Japan´s Yurika Abe (34:14.3) ended second and third, respectively.
“I am happy but there is still a lot of work to do and many races to compete in,” said multiple Paralympic champion Kononova.
Ukraine dominated the visually impaired categories.
In the men´s visually impaired, their skiers performed a clean sweep. Iurii Utkin (32:50.7), guided by Ruslan Perekhoda, claimed top spot to win his first world title.
Anatolii Kovalevskyi (33:07.4) and guide Oleksandr Mukshyn finished second, and Dmytro Suiarko (33:51.9), guided by Vasyl Potapenko, collected bronze.
“It feels great to win this title, this is very big and I did not expect to win. But hopefully now I will win more golds in the days to come,” said Utkin.
Ukraine´s Olga Prylutska (33:11.4) and guide Volodymyr Ivanov claimed gold in the women´s visually impaired to make it to her second podium at a World Championships after winning bronze at Cable 2015.
Her compatriot and biathlon World Cup overall leader Oksana Shyshkova (33:18.5), guided by Vitalii Kazakov, took silver, and Germany´s Clara Klug (36:47.9), guided by Martin Hartl, sealed bronze.
“Is this real? Because it has not sunk in yet,” said Prylutska.
The World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Finsterau will continue on Sunday (12 February) with the cross-country skiing sprint events. A total of 120 athletes from 20 countries are competing.
Live results and coverage from the 2017 World Para Nordic Skiing Championships are available at Finsterau2017.com.