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Para Nordic skiers Wilkie, Hudak 'faster than they have ever been'

"We knew from training camps and in training sessions that they are faster than they have ever been before."

CANMORE – Break out the cameras: Canadian skiing stars Natalie Wilkie and Brittany Hudak are faster than ever and needing photo finishes to see who'll have gold around their necks during the Canmore Para Nordic Skiing World Cup.

The teammates who train together have won together after an outstanding start to the season at the Canmore Nordic Centre where each has taken two gold medals and a silver, including tying for top spot in the opening day of competition.

"[Saturday's race] was super special," said Wilkie about the double-gold. "[Hudak and I have] been training together all year and we've been neck-and-neck for so long that it almost wasn't surprising that we won gold together, which is just awesome ... I knew she was a strong skater, she's a great biathlete and I knew that she was going to be pretty tough to beat."

At only 20 years old and already a Winter Paralympic champion and three-time Games medallist, the sky is the limit for Wilkie. 

Moving from Salmon Arm, B.C. to Canmore, widely considered the best spot in the country for Nordic skiing, has not only aided in her development as an elite athlete, but also to her teammates.

"She's a really good technical skier so it's really helped me skiing with her and watching her movements," said Hudak, a bronze medallist in biathlon at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. "I find she just has such efficient power over the skis. The last couple years our times have just been closer and helps us push each other and some of my strengths are more weaknesses for her and vice versa ... which I think helps us both kind of improve and feed off each other and to be so close, getting the splits during the race I think it makes it that much more fun and we're really trying to race each other, too."


A post shared by Natalie (@natalie_wilkie_)

Off skis, hikers could catch the friendly faces of Wilkie and Hudak sharing a selfie for Instagram on top of a Bow Valley mountain. On skis, they're forming into a devastating one-two punch for Canada.

Their top notch skiing and pile of medals this early in the season are hardly surprising to the Para Nordic national team's head coach, Robin McKeever.

"We knew from training camps and in training sessions that they are faster than they have ever been before," said McKeever. "Working as teammates, working as a team together, pushing each other every day allows them to gain the big gaps that they need to gain and I think that is proven this week. I'm pretty satisfied with where we've started with them."

Starting off the Paralympic season in Canmore, the hometown courses have given each skier a boost, they said. Seeing familiar faces on the course is helping them find that extra push when needed.

On the first day of the Canmore Para Nordic world cup, Wilkie and Hudak tied for first place in women's interval start five-kilometre standing classic at a time of 14:59.5. 

The next day, Wilkie was solo at claiming the top spot in the women's 10 km standing free technique. Hudak crossed the finish line in second.

On Tuesday (Dec. 7), the final day of cross country racing, the teammates were once again neck-and-neck battling for top prize throughout the entire 1,400-metre sprint course final.

After two heats to qualify for the finals, the day of emotional and physical exhaustion came to a head in the six-woman final with Hudak, Wilkie and Canadian Emily Young.

The fast race saw Hudak and Wilkie once again pushing each other and fighting for every inch.

As Para Nordic athletes were rushing to different areas for better views of the race, Hudak, a two-time Paralympian, pulled ahead of her teammate in the final metres of the women's standing sprint.

"To have three races and podium in all three so far is just, honestly, I'm so overwhelmed almost," said Hudak, 28. "I'm really happy about it and I feel like my shape is in a good spot right now for this time of year, so it's really nice to see and it's nice to see so many of our other Canadian team on the podium as well. We've all been doing well and I think our wheel of momentum is rolling and I think it's going to keep rolling into March and I'm excited for more races here."


A post shared by Natalie (@natalie_wilkie_)

Coming up next at the Canmore Para Nordic Skiing World Cup is biathlon starting Thursday (Dec. 9) at 10 a.m.

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

An award-winning reporter, Jordan Small has covered sports, the arts, and news in the Bow Valley since 2014. Originally from Barrie, Ont., Jordan has lived in Alberta since 2013.
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