Arendz awaits his chance for para-biathlon glory
Thursday, Dec 14, 2017 06:00 am
Towering over his competitors at the finish line of the middle distance Para-Nordic skiing race, Mark Arendz has the look of a man biding his time. Three cross-country skiers may have bested him in the 10-kilometre skate race, but his time is nigh:
“Just wait until biathlon. Then you’ll see a hometown advantage,” Arendz says with a grin.
Arendz won four medals at the 2017 World Para-Nordic Skiing championships, including gold in the middle distance and sprint races, and a silver in the individual race. On hills he has climbed hundreds of times, in a range where he’s shot thousands of times, Arendz is favoured to perform this weekend in Canmore. He will race Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 14, 16-17) at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
“I think it’s just working out the bugs,” Arendz said. “How I want to approach the races in March, we’re mimicking that here and making sure the bugs are ironed out.”
The world championship winner won’t have a cakewalk. The Russians, who must race as neutrals at the IPC level due to last year’s anti-doping ruling, will present a challenge, while Benjamin Daviet of France has also looked strong.
While Arendz places high expectations upon himself, coach Robin McKeever said ultimately, Paralympics are the goal. All of the work this weekend should be done with an eye on that.
“We don’t expect everyone to be perfect. This is about preparing for March, because March is the only thing that matters,” McKeever said. “This is like a world cup training race. It’s so important, but at the same time, it’s more about ironing out the issues and changing things as we move forward. We have a lot of time between now and March to iron things out.”
Arendz has told his story countless times. At the age of seven, his left arm was amputated above the elbow after it was cut off in a corn auger. He fell in with the Prince Edward Island cadet crowd, was bitten by the biathlon bug in 2002, and made his Paralympic debut in 2010 in Vancouver. Now, he’s a fixture in most Canmore able body races, and the scourge of the biathlon field on the Paralympic side.
McKeever praised the PEI-native’s middle distance race, as the fourth-place finish is a solid result.
Arendz will be favoured, but he won’t be the only Canadian to watch. Brittany Hudak skipped the distance race to focus on biathlon, while Emily Young will also have two more races.
Para-Nordic biathlon differs slightly from able body biathlon. Air rifles instead of .22-calibre rifles are used, and the athletes don’t carry the rifle with them while they ski. Targets are 10 metres away instead of 50 metres, and the target is the size of a thumbnail.
“I think I put a big pressure on the shooting part here, because that’s really an area where we can really focus on to perfect here. The goal of our team is not to miss,” McKeever said. “It’s different with air rifles. Your job is not to miss, because that is a mistake. It’s definitely easier with the 10m target than with the 50m target, but you can’t always rely on perfect shooting.”
One athlete who won’t be in the range is Brian McKeever, the 10-time Paralympic medallist. The younger McKeever brother continues to chase his Olympic dream, and was the top Canadian at the NorAm in Rossland.
Coach McKeever said he understands his brother’s choice.
“I would have loved to have seen my brother here against the (visually-impaired skiers), but he’s got that focus, and we allow him that … If he’s happier and focused in Rossland, that’s what he needs to do. That race is as big an event as we have in Canada for skiing.”
The Para-Nordic biathlon races begin at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Canmore Nordic Centre.