ÖSTERSUND, SWEDEN – Canada’s Natalie Wilkie dethroned a rival and became the new world champion in freestyle sprint at the Para Nordic Skiing World Championships in Östersund, Sweden.
During the night races on Tuesday (Jan. 24), every Canadian racing qualified for the finals. However, the 22-year-old Wilkie delivered the standout performance in a head-to-head battle with Norway’s Vilde Nilsen, winning a second gold and third medal of the championships.
All eyes were on “the big two” in the women’s standing final with Wilkie being the Beijing Paralympic champion, and Nilsen coming in as the reigning two-time world champion.
The two flew off the starting line with Wilkie gaining a slight advantage until the Norwegian turned it on in the 1.2-kilometre race. The gold medal quickly came down between Nilsen and Wilkie, both 22, as they traded leads in the short race.
The Canuck pulled ahead and the gap grew to about five metres on her counterpart as they entered the stadium and final stretch. The two-time reigning world champ wouldn’t go down quietly though, and Nilsen furiously double-polled and gained ground in the final 75 metres.
Wilkie’s last big push was too much though and the pride of Salmon Arm, B.C. crossed the line at 2:47.0. Nilsen took silver at 2:47.4. USA’s Sydney Peterson won the bronze.
Canadian Brittany Hudak, who has won silver and bronze at the world championships, chose not to race in the women's standing sprint.
One of Canada's big guns in sprint, Collin Cameron, was unable to turn on the jets in the final on the men’s sitting.
The 2019 world champion finished in sixth after falling out of contention in the last 100 metres.
Teammate Derek Zaplotinsky finished fifth, a world championship PB in cross-country sprint.
The Canadians were at one point first and second and looked like contenders halfway through. However, things changed quickly in the last 200 metres, and the field pulled ahead of Zaplotinsky and Cameron and knocked them off the podium.
In the men’s standing, Canada’s Mark Arendz advanced to the finals by placing third in the heat. The shocker of the men’s standing was Beijing gold medallist Benjamin Daviet being eliminated from the finals after a disappointing performance in the semis.
In the final, Arendz skied with the pack, but was unable to make a run for a podium spot. In the final 25 metres after the Canadian was out of contention, he accidentally tripped on a competitor’s ski and wiped out. He finished sixth.
In the women’s sitting final, Canadian Christina Picton finished sixth.
The Canadians have won eight medals (three gold, four silver, one bronze).
The Para Nordic Skiing World Championships continue Wednesday (Jan. 25) for the 10-km biathlon. Racing starts at 2 a.m. MST.
To watch all the live cross-country races, visit the FIS Cross Country YouTube channel.
To watch all the live biathlon races, visit the Biathlonworld YouTube channel.