Canada’s Nordic Skiers add Bronze to 14 Medal Haul at Paralympic Winter Games
BEIJING, Chn—Canada’s cross-country skiers will leave the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games with 14 medals around their necks.
The Canucks added one more bronze in the mixed relay on the final day of the Games Sunday at the Zhangjaikou National Biathlon Centre.
Collin Cameron (Bracebridge, Ont.), Emily Young (North Vancouver), Mark Arendz (Hartsville, P.E.I.), and Natalie Wilkie (Salmon Arm, B.C.) clocked a third-place time of 27:00.6 in the 4×2.5-kilometre mixed relay.
“This is friggin awesome. That was so much fun,” said Cameron, who now has six career Paralympic bronze medals including three in Beijing. “We knew as a team that we had a really strong chance today. We all had the stoke level at maximum trying to survive after a week of racing.
“It just feels perfect to come out here and get a podium together with these three. I couldn’t have asked for anything more today.”
Cameron skied the second-fastest opening leg before handing off to Emily Young who took on the first rip around the skate-ski loop. Arendz, who brought his Paralympic medal total to 12, then closed a 35 second gap to set up the young star of the Canadian team, Natalie Wilkie, to fight for the podium in the anchor leg.
The 21-year-old Wilkie completed her set of medals from Beijing on Sunday after a hard-fought slog through the soft-snow where she held off Saturday’s women’s gold medallist, Oleksandra Kononova of the Ukraine.
Wilkie won two golds, a silver and a bronze this week. She also won a complete set of medals at her Paralympic debut in PyeongChang.
“It was a lot of fun and some hard racing. It was also relief,” laughed Emily Young. “The relays are terribly wonderful. There is a lot of energy from yourself, your teammates and everyone around. It is nice to have that, but also you don’t want to let your team down, so it is a lot of stress, but a lot of fun.”
The United States won the gold in the mixed relay format, finishing with a time of 25:59.3. China was second at 26:25.3.
It was just the second Paralympic Games that Canada has won a relay medal in Para-Nordic skiing. The Canadians won a bronze in the open relay and a silver in the mixed relay in 2018.
Paralympic legend, Brian McKeever (Canmore, Alta.) – along with his guide Russell Kennedy (Canmore, Alta.) – teamed up with Brittany Hudak (Prince Albert, Sask.) in the 4×2.5-kilometre open relay. The Canadians finished in sixth spot with a time of 30:24.7.
The Ukraine won the race with a time of 28:05.3. France was second at 28:30.4, while Norway skied to the bronze medal at 28:41.0.
It was the final Paralympic race for Brian McKeever who amassed 20 medals, including 16 victories, in his six trips to the ultimate stage for para sport.
“It was so special to have this opportunity to ski the final race with Brian. I have looked up to him for so many years and he has done so much for our sport,” said an emotional Brittany Hudak.
Hudak was joined by her Canadian teammates and coaches in an emotional farewell to McKeever at the finish line following their 14-medal haul in Beijing. All credited him for their success as newcomers to the sport in the last eight years.
“The success of this team starts with the leadership from one of the most successful and support coaches, Robin McKeever, leading the way to the guy (Brian) tying the most ever winter Paralympic victories,” said Mark Arendz.
“Brian is the first guy to congratulate us, always. The support, knowledge, wisdom we get from him is invaluable. He comes and gives us tips if we ask or not. He’s always there for a coffee to chat, or to get us through tough times. He is everywhere for us. He won’t be on the course anymore after these Games, but he will always be with us, and a part of Canada’s Para-Nordic Team – we know that,” said Emily Young.
“A medal is something you get after you put the work in and race. It is the cherry on top. If your best is first or fifth, Brian is always there to celebrate the effort with us,” offered Natalie Wilkie.
“Brian celebrates our results more than his own. He is always the first to come over and share in our success at the finish line,” added Collin Cameron. “This team is a family. We wouldn’t be successful without him or the friendship, trust and support we all have for each other in the good times and bad. It is a family that sticks together through it all and I’m just so privileged to be part of this group.”
Canadian Para-Nordic Team Highlights:
– 14 medals won is the second-best ever Paralympic performance by Canada. The Para-Nordic team won 16 medals in 2018 PyeongChang;
– The youngest member of the Canadian Para-Nordic Team, Natalie Wilkie, won a complete set of cross-country ski medals for the second-straight Games. The 21-year-old skied to two golds, one silver and one bronze;
– Mark Arendz increased his career-medal total to 12. Arendz won one gold, one silver, two bronze in Beijing;
– Brian McKeever swept all three individual men’s cross-country ski events for the fourth consecutive Paralympic Winter Games, bringing his career-medal total to 20 with 16 victories;
– Brittany Hudak won her first Paralympic cross-country ski medal earning the bronze in the distance race. Hudak also won bronze in the individual biathlon competition;
– The bronze medal man – Collin Cameron won three bronze medals for the second-straight Paralympics.
Canada’s Para-Nordic Team will travel back home on Monday.
Complete Paralympic Results: https://www.paralympic.org/beijing-2022/results