Derek Zaplotinsky pays his dues to become World Cup gold medallist

Canadian Paralympic Committee

March 15, 2024

Para nordic skier seeing results from hard work and dedication

Zaplotinssky action 2024

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. –. After nearly a decade on the Para nordic national team, Derek Zaplotinsky is seeing the fruits of his labour with medal winning results on the World Cup circuit over the past two seasons.

It reached a new high on Thursday  when he won the gold medal in the men’s sitting five kilometre cross country race at the World Cup Final, his first international win. It was an emotional moment for Zaplotinsky who triumphed before friends and family including his parents.

And to boot he finished ahead of double 2022 Paralympic Games champion Mengtao Liu of China who was second and veteran Cristian Ribera of Brazil, third in a 22-man field.

The two-time Paralympian had nibbled at the podium a few times before his current success  including  the 2019 Para nordic World Championships held in Prince George with two top-five finishes. But late last season at a World Cup in Soldier Hollow, Utah, he won the bronze medal in the men’s sitting cross country sprint, his first international podium.

The success continued in 2024. He took bronze in a 29-man field in both the 10 kilometre individual and 10 kilometre mass start in cross country at the season opening World Cup in January. Last week, he was fourth twice at the Para biathlon worlds, held in Prince George.

‘’Trying to get higher on that podium is what motivates me the most,’’ said Zaplotinsky, 38,  earlier this week following training for the World Cup final. ‘’It’s been really exciting to see that I’m capable of winning a medal in every race.’’

Zap and Mac

Zaplotinsky, from Smoky Lake, Alta., was paralysed from the waist down in a 2006 accident.  He was motocross racing in Lloydminster and another dirt bike landed on him. Zaplotinsky returned to sport four years later, first as a Para cyclist and then as a cross country skier.

He made his first world championship team in 2015. He admits there has been a lot of frustrations over the years as a podium sometimes appeared like Mount Everest.

‘’My teammates will attest that I’ve announced a few retirements in the past,’’ he said. ‘’But I always come back. My training has been much more consistent the past two seasons and I’ve put a big focus on strength training in particular.

Canada’s Para nordic national coach Brian McKeever, who won a record 20 medals for Canada in the sport in six Paralympic Winter Games, says big results in endurance sports like Para nordic tend to take longer to achieve.

‘’He’s done steady work and seen improvements every year,’’ said McKeever. ‘’That’s the hard thing and that’s the unsexy side of the sport. Sometimes you don’t see the benefits until you start to look back a year or two.

‘’I can imagine it’s been frustrating, but you have to have that kind of patience. Now he’s becoming quite a complete athlete.

‘’He’s developed not just physically but also mentally and emotionally and it shows in the results.’’

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