Mark Arendz struck silver and Brittany Hudak hit 49 of 50 targets to win bronze to complete Canada’s medal haul at the 2017 World Para-Nordic World Cup biathlon races at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
Arendz won his medal Thursday (Dec. 14) in the individual 15 kilometre standing race with a time of 36:56.7. The 27-year-old is coming off a heavy month of training and a full slate of cross-country ski races, but still found enough snap in his legs to finish second.
“It was a good race, but there was room for sharpening, being the first para-biathlon race of the year,” Arendz said. “I died a little more than I hoped towards the end, but overall it was consistent.”
Arendz shot clean, besting Neutral Paralympic Athletes (NPA) he hadn’t seen in a year. Benjamin Daviet of France was unbeatable, finishing in 35:46.3.
“Some of the neutrals are here that I haven’t seen in a couple of years and I know they are really good athletes, so it was good to see where I stood today,” Arendz said. “Knowing this range inside and out, and shooting at every moment in it, from dawn to dusk, that’s what’s going to help us here, especially with changing light.”
Arendz struggled in the sprint, finishing fifth, and rebounded in the pursuit, where he felt much better.
“I’m glad with the shape I’m in. I think the level of speed and fitness is higher than it’s been in previous Decembers, so that’s a good sign. I know at my best I can be much closer to the top and that’s where I want to be in March,” Arendz said.
Hudak shot with diamond clarity in the range, taking bronze in the individual. She was the only woman to shoot clean in the field.
“I was happy with the shooting today. The skiing felt a little bit slow – I didn’t have a lot of turnover – but I tried to ski consistently and hit the targets, and it worked out well.”
Hudak is recovering from compartment syndrome surgery, so her improved ski speed is a good sign.
She shot well in the sprint, and was happy with her fifth-place performance in the pursuit. She’ll now head home for the holidays to celebrate with her family and work on her truck.
Cross Country Canada High Performance director Mike Edwards was pleased with how the team performed.
“We did well. We didn’t come in trying to peak. We had a lot of good positives. Natalie Wilkie performed and showed she is ready to compete. She qualified for PyeongChang and will make her final decision in the next few weeks. She has able-bodied goals as well,” Edwards said.
He praised Emily Young, who led Canada with four medals, Hudak’s performance over the course of the week, and Arendz’s great races under a heavy load.
“Emily is showing she is ready to take the next step and will be ready.”
Canadian head coach Robin McKeever said the Canadian team for PyeongChang is taking shape, adding, “we will take 11 or 12 (to Pyeongchang). It’s just a matter of what we decide. Now we have about 10 men who have made minimum criteria and five women. Already for our skiing it looks good for our program. We have more athletes than ever before who have met minimum criteria for the Games. It shows the program is growing.”
He credits Kate Boyd for bringing in top athletes to Para-Nordic, as well as all the staff. The program no longer relies solely on Brian McKeever, and has five medal threats in the stable.
“I’m satisfied with the week; the women especially were really good,” McKeever said.
Treating the world cup as a mini-training camp changed expectations, but McKeever said the large team managed to spell each other off.
“There will be a couple athletes who want more and a couple who are really satisfied. That’s the beauty of having a bigger program. When you only have one or two athletes, and something goes wrong, then it’s hard on the entire program. When you have half a dozen … they can offset each other,” McKeever said.
The Canadian program continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and the head coach is proud of the team’s diversity.
“After 2010, the big thing was only Brian (McKeever) performed and that’s where the money went. We got cut a lot of money for the funding. Our whole job after that was to work our butts off to find some people, or get younger people up to speed. We created new world champs in 2011 and grew from there. We still rely heavily on Mark to do stuff for us in biathlon.”
The competition produced several international champions. Oksana Masters shocked herself by sweeping the biathlon races with three gold medals. Three years ago in Canmore, she missed all of her shots and skied extra penalty loops by accident, so her progress is immense.
Ivan Golubkov of NPA swept all six races over the 10-day event, decimating the men’s sit-ski division. Golubkov said he hopes he is able to repeat the feat in PyeongChang, and expected to dominate in Canmore.
For full results, visit www.albertaworldcup.com.