CANMORE, Alta.—Canada’s Para-Nordic athletes celebrated a triple medal day in the classic-ski sprint races at the World Cup in Canmore, Alta. on Tuesday.
Brittany Hudak (Prince Albert, Sask.) edged out her teammate Natalie Wilkie (Salmon Arm, B.C.) to take the gold in the women’s standing classification, while Collin Cameron (Sudbury, Ont.) captured his first victory of the season in the men’s sit-ski race.
Recognized as a biathlon specialist, the 28-year-old Hudak shocked the world, and herself, to win her first ever cross-country ski sprint race.
“I never would have thought that I’d take a victory in a sprint race,” laughed Hudak, who won bronze medal in biathlon at the 2018 Paralympic Games. “I felt pretty strong in my classic skiing this past year, so I knew there was potential for a great race.”
Hudak has been battling it out with her friend and teammate, Natalie Wilkie, in the first three Para World Cup races at Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park. The Canadian duo tied for gold in Saturday’s opener. Wilkie topped Hudak in Sunday’s skate-ski middle distance race, setting up a sprint showdown on Tuesday where they were lined up in the six-woman final heat alongside their Paralympic teammate, Emily Young (Kelowna, B.C.).
The Canucks played cat and mouse up and down the hills and through the straights of the 1.4-kilometre course. Hudak and Wilkie pulled away from the pack in the final downhill into the stadium, powering their way to the finish where Hudak edged out the 20-year-old Wilkie at the line.
“I could hear Brittany breathing the whole way. She was right on my heels which pushed me to go harder but she just got me at the end,” said Wilkie. “It was awesome to have three Canadian women in the final. We wanted to sweep the podium today. It was close, but unfortunately didn’t happen.”
Russia’s luliia Mikheeva prevented the Canadian sweep of the women’s standing classification medals, topping Emily Young in a battle for the final spot on the podium.
It was the 12th career podium for Hudak and eighth for Wilkie.
“I just wanted to ski as fast as I could today,” said Hudak following her second victory of the week and career. “I feel like I have had solid training the last two years and I could feel my fitness getting better, but at the same time, you know your competitors have the same goal and are improving as well. I was hoping for the best coming into the season. To see where the shape is in December is really good. The goal is to build to the Paralympics in March, but this is a great start to the season.”
Canada’s Collin Cameron stomped the men’s sit-ski field to win his first sprint race of the season, and fourth of his career including the 2019 World Championship title.
“This is amazing. It is a big confidence booster for sure, putting it into my mind that a whole summer of training is paying off,” said Cameron, a winner of three bronze medals at the 2018 Paralympics. “I’m just trying to keep things in check because it is only December, but it feels really good to come out here against the best athletes in my category and just thrown down.”
One of the most respected athletes in the Para-Nordic world, Cameron was in complete control setting a blistering pace in each of his three trips around the 731-metre track at Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park. He set the top qualifying time, leading the 12 fastest skiers into the head-to-head heats The top-three athletes in each heat move to the next round. Cameron was first across the line in the semis and final.
“My strategy was to race my line. I had a really good line the whole time and thankfully I wasn’t in any traffic so I didn’t have to worry about any of that,” added Cameron, who made his move in each heat on the biggest climb midway through the course.
“I knew that hill was it. I knew if someone was going to come up behind me, or if I was going to gain some ground, I had to get my butt up that hill as quickly as I could.”
Cameron was joined on the podium by Russia’s Ivan Golubkov in the silver-medal position. Italy’s Giuseppe Romele skied to third place.
Three other Canadians – Christina Picton (Fonthill, Ont.), Mark Arendz (Hartsville, P.E.I.) and Brian McKeever (Canmore, Alta.) – all qualified for a spot in the finals of their respective classifications.
Picton finished fifth in a hard-fought women’s sit-ski final. Mark Arendz also clawed his way to fifth in the men’s standing division after crashing mid-way through the final. Brian McKeever and his guide, Graham Nishikawa of Whitehorse, came up short of the podium in fourth of the men’s visually impaired category.
The World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup continues on Thursday in Canmore, Alta. with the first of three biathlon competitions.
Complete Para Nordic Skiing World Cup Canmore Results: https://bit.ly/3rKyQ4F