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Article by Chris Nornan:

CANMORE, Alta.—Canada’s Para Nordic Ski Team got the Paralympic season off to a medal-winning start on home snow, combining to win four medals at Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park.

Natalie Wilkie, of Salmon Arm, B.C., and her teammate Brittany Hudak, of Prince Albert, Sask., tied for the gold medal in the women’s standing classification, while hometown boy, Brian McKeever, dominated the men’s visually impaired category in the short distance classic-ski races. Mark Arendz, of Hartsville, P.E.I. was third in the men’s standing division.

“The best are here this week in every category so I am super pumped to see all of the podiums. Collin (Cameron) and Christina (Picton) both in fifth is also awesome,” said McKeever, who just happens to be the most decorated Winter Paralympian.

The 20-year-old Wilkie, who won a set of medals at her Paralympic debut in 2018, finished deadlocked at 14:58.5 with teammate Brittany Hudak in a hard-fought 7.5-kilometre battle up and down the rolling terrain of Canmore’s Rocky Mountains.

“It is such a great feeling to win here in Canmore. We were looking forward to this week and I know Team Canada has a lot more to give,” said Wilkie. “It was awesome to share the podium with Brittany. I went into today wanting to do my best, to keep up with Brittany, and now I want to keep this momentum going.”

It was the sixth career podium for Wilkie on the World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup. In addition to her medal hat trick at the 2018 Paralympics, she also has two World Championship medals.

The 28-year-old Hudak, of Prince Albert, Sask., captured her first career victory on the Para World Cup, after matching times with Wilkie on the challenging Canmore trail.

“It was the best feeling getting the tie with Natalie,” laughed Hudak. “There is really nobody I’d rather tie with. We spend a lot of time training together, and pushing each other to be better, so it was super great to see where our shape is at. Not having as many races last year, it was hard to know where we stand. I knew there was potential for a good result today, and it is nice to put together a good one.”

A biathlon specialist, the gold-medal triumph was Hudak’s 10th career podium on the World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup in cross-country skiing.

Russia’s Ekaterina Rumyantseva finished behind the Canucks in third place at 16:07.9.

Emily Young, of Kelowna, B.C., finished just off the women’s standing podium in fourth place with a time of 16:08.8.

Brian McKeever got his sixth Paralympic season off to a golden start. The 42-year-old teamed up with friend and guide, Graham Nishikawa of Whitehorse, to win the men’s 7.5-kilometre visually impaired race.

“I’m surprised we won today. At our age now, every day is a little different and you never know how the body is going to react, but anytime you are competitive, that is a win for sure,” said McKeever. “The young guys out here are getting faster every year which is good. It is getting way more competitive now. I’m very happy with the start and to know we are in the game.”

The 17-time Paralympic medallist and Nishikawa followed their game plan to near perfection, double poling the course on a snowy Alberta day in a time of 18:54.2.

“Double poling used to be a strength of mine, but when I blew my back out a few years ago I haven’t trained it in a number of years. On this course you have no choice but to double pole because I don’t believe this course can be won on kick wax,” said McKeever, who had no expectations coming into the race.

“I never do because I can’t control what others will do. I show up with a plan and do the best I can with that plan. If it doesn’t work, then you change it, but we can really only focus on the things we have control over.”

The Canadian duo edged out Russia’s Oleg Ponomarev and his guide Andrei Romanov for the top step of the podium. The Russian’s stopped the clock at 19:00.3.  Sweden’s Zebastian Modin and his guide, Erik Persson were third at 19:06.3.

Jesse Bachinsky, Kenora, Ont., and Levi Nadlersmith (Boissevain, Man.) teamed up to finish 14th at 23:20.4 in the men’s visually impaired race.

Canada’s 2018 Closing Ceremony flag bearer, Mark Arendz, snagged the fourth medal of the day in the men’s 7.5-kilometre category after clocking a time of 19:26.0.

“Starting the season at home today was special. It was good to get our feet under us before we start to travel for other races and build towards the Paralympics,” said the 31-year-old, who is an eight-time Paralympic medallist. “I am really happy with how this first race went. Classic skiing is one of my specialties and I really wanted to throw down a solid classic race today.”

Arendz shared the podium with two Russsian skiers. Vladislav Lekomtsev set the time to beat at 18:43.7. Vitalii Maylshev skied to the silver medal with a time of 18:44.6.

Kyle Barber (Lively, Ont.) was 18th at 24:03.8. Charles Lecours, of Trois-Rivières, Que., was 20th at 27:58.3.

Canada had two fifth place finishes in the women’s and men’s five-kilometre sit-ski races. Christina Picton, of Fonthill, Ont. stopped the clock at 16:34.8 in women’s action. Collin Cameron matched that result in men’s racing with a time of 13:38.8.

Other Canadian sit-ski results included: Lyne-Marie Bilodeau, of Magog, Que., in 10th at 20:41.9; Derek Zaplotinksy, of Smoky Lake, Alta., in eighth at 13:56.2; Sébastien Fortier, of Quebec City, in 14th at 15:01.8; Ethan Hess, of Pemberton, B.C., in 15th at 15:24.0; Vancouver’s Leo Sammarelli in 19th with a time of 16:02.3; and Yves Bourque, of Bécancour, Que., in 25th with a time of 17:09.0.

The World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup resumes on Sunday in Canmore with the middle distance skate-ski races.

Complete Para-Nordic World Cup Vuokatti Results:

These incredible athletes will finish their season at Whistler Olympic Park at the Canadian National Championships hosted by Black Tusk Nordic March 20-27, 2022.

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