(Photo- Derek Zaplotinsky in action courtesy of Nordiq Canada)
For the first time in over a year, members of Canada’s Para nordic ski team faced their international rivals, at a World Cup competition which concluded Friday in Vuokatti, Finland.
It was a successful return to racing for the powerful Canadians. Brian McKeever and his guide Russell Kennedy collected a medal of each colour and Brittany Hudak notched two bronze medals. Also joining the Paralympic medallists in Finland were a few of Canada’s NextGen skiers, who gained valuable international experience.
“Mission accomplished,” said McKeever, Canada’s most successful winter Paralympian with 17 medals. “It was important for us to get over here and just see where we are at. These results show that we are close.”
McKeever and Kennedy took gold in the men’s visually impaired 12.5-kilometre race last Friday, then bronze on Saturday in the 20 kilometre and a silver Tuesday in the 7.5-kilometre classic.
Beijing 2022 would be McKeever’s sixth Paralympic Games. The 13-time Games champion could tie retired German alpine skier Gerd Schoenfelder‘s male record for career Winter Paralympic titles if he repeats his triple gold performance from PyeongChang 2018. It would take five total medals however to tie Schoenfelder’s male record for medals of any colour.
That sets the stage for an epic battle for the gold medals with Sweden’s Zebastian Modin, a double winner in Finland this week, as well as triple medallists Stanislav Chokhlaev of Russia and Belarus’s Yury Holub.
“That is what this season is about,’’ said McKeever. ‘’Everybody has been disrupted in some way and has come out of this training year differently. It is important to be here just to see where things stand heading into the Paralympic year. Not only our shape, but where everybody is at.”
Hudak collected bronze medals in the 10-kilometre race and five-kilometre classic. She showcased her progression while scrapping for the podium with Norway’s Vilde Nilsen and Russia’s Ekaternia Rumyantseva.
“I was beyond excited and grateful to get to put a race bib on again,’’ said the PyeongChang 2018 bronze medallist. ‘’Going a full year without international races really solidified how much I love racing and travelling with the team.
“It was a great team effort that resulted in podium performances, so we are thrilled,” she said, lauding the work of the team’s technicians and coaches.
Over this past year, Hudak also put her degree in social work into play while working at a group home for teens with Enviros Wilderness School Association, in addition to training and staying ready for the restart of international racing.
“I’ve felt satisfied with a good year of training, so I was eager to see where my fitness was at amongst my competitors,” she said. “Every time I got splits on how close I was to a podium, I just felt more energized.’’
On Friday in her final race of the World Cup, Hudak posted a sixth-place finish in the 12.5-kilometre women’s standing biathlon. Christina Picton was fifth in the women’s sitting biathlon and Derek Zaplotinsky was ninth in the men’s sitting event.
Cross country specialist Lyne-Marie Bilodeau was the other Canadian in action this week.
Full results can be found here.
(With files from Nordiq Canada)