Back-to-Back Golds for Natalie Wilkie and Brian McKeever Lead Canadian Charge at Para Nordic World Cup
CANMORE, Alta.— A golden day for Natalie Wilkie, along with Brian McKeever and his guide Graham Nishikawa, led the way for another four-medal charge by the Canadians on Sunday, doubling their two-day total at the World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup in Canmore, Alta.
The Canucks successfully defended home snow on a frigid day at Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park with Wilkie, of Salmon Arm, B.C., powering to her second-straight gold medal in the women’s standing division, while McKeever (Canmore, Alta.) and Nishikawa (Whitehorse) rocked the men’s visually impaired middle-distance skate-ski race.
“Today was all about keeping the momentum going,” said Wilkie, a three-time Paralympic medallist. “The legs were feeling a bit heavy today, but I know the course really well, and was racing for the top again.”
The 20-year-old dusted the women’s 10-kilometre skate-ski standing field to grasp her third Para World Cup victory and seventh medal in her young career. Wilkie, who joined the national program just four years ago, also has two World Championship medals to her credit.
“I know I’m usually pretty good in a 10-kilometre skate, but I did not expect to be that far ahead of the field. Each lap I just kept gaining a couple of seconds and it seemed everyone dropped off,” added Wilkie.
Brittany Hudak of Prince Albert, Sask., was the next best finisher 42.2 seconds back of her friend and teammate. The 28-year-old social worker clocked a silver medal-winning time of 28:53.1 after completing her four spins around the 2.5-kilometre loop.
“It is so exciting for us (to finish one and two). It was nice to see Natalie have the podium today, to be getting splits off her and being in the running,” said Hudak following her 11th career podium.
“It makes it a lot fun being on home soil. Every corner we go around, seeing a familiar face and the cheering makes us push harder. It feels really nice to be in a competition yet have the familiarity of the trails.”
The Canadian duo, who tied for the gold in Saturday’s season opening short distance race, were joined on the podium by Russia’s Ekaterina Rumyantseva who punched the clock at 29:02.3 for the bronze medal.
Emily Young, of Kelowna, B.C., was sixth in the women’s standing race with a time of 31:02.8
Brian McKeever credited brilliant guiding by Graham Nishikawa and their support team for edging out Russia’s Stanislav Chokhlaev and his guide, Oleg Kolodiichuk, by 1.4 seconds to remain unbeaten in the opening Para World Cup weekend.
“Today was good. Nish was super good. It was incredibly hard guiding today because of the wind, and he was incredibly astute knowing when I needed guiding the most and when he could peel off,” said McKeever. “The techs did a fantastic job with the skis. They were really fast. That is part of the home course advantage here. We know the snow a little better. Our techs test here all of the time. When you look at a margin of victory of 1.6 seconds, it is the little things that make the difference, so all of those things together is teamwork that made the difference today, otherwise we wouldn’t have won.”
The 42-year-old McKeever completed the 12.5-kilometre men’s visually impaired skate-ski race at his home venue in a time of 28:50.2. The Russians stopped the clock at 28:51.5. Jake Adicoff and Simi Hamilton teamed up to win the bronze with a time of 29:02.7.
The Canadian trail to the podium began on Sunday with Collin Cameron claiming his first medal of the season in the men’s 10-kilometre sit-ski race. The 33-year-old former sledge hockey player from Sudbury, Ont. hammered the pace throughout his four trips up and down the hills of the Canmore Nordic Centre to grab the final spot on the podium with a time of 26:02.6.
“I was hungry to redeem myself after a silly crash yesterday that just shouldn’t happen,” said Cameron, who now has seven career medals on the Para World Cup, along with three more World Championship podiums. “I wanted to hold my lines today and pushed as hard as I could without blowing up. I found my spots to recover and was really happy with my race tactics.”
Italy’s Giuseppe Romele won the sit-ski classification with a time of 25:11.0. Russia’s Ivan Golubkov skied to the silver with a time of 25:43.0.
Derek Zaplotinksy, of Smoky Lake, Alta, also had a solid day on the sit-ski, finishing fifth (26:52.3). Ethan Hess, of Pemberton, B.C. was 14th (28:52.3), Sébastien Fortier, of Quebec City, finished 15th at 28:57.8, Vancouver’s Leo Sammarelli was 17th (31:17.5), and Yves Bourque, of Bécancour, Que., placed 22nd with a time of 32:29.1. Lyne-Marie Bilodeau, of Magog, Que., was the lone Canadian to suit up in the women’s 7.5-kilometre sit-ski competition and finished ninth with a time of 29:40.7.
Jesse Ehman (Saskatoon), and Kyle Barber (Lively, Ont.), finished 18th and 19th respectively in the men’s standing division.
After a one-day training break, the World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup will resume on Tuesday in Canmore with the classic-ski sprint races.
Nordiq Canada is the governing body of para-nordic and cross-country skiing in Canada, which is the nation’s optimal sport and recreational activity with more than one million Canadians participating annually. Its 60,000 members include athletes, coaches, officials and skiers of all ages and abilities. With the support of its valued corporate partners – Haywood Securities Inc., AltaGas, Swix and Lanctôt Sports– along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own the Podium and B2Ten, Nordiq Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic and world champions. For more information on Nordiq Canada, please visit us at https://nordiqcanada.ca.