Natalie Wilkie Sprints to Gold at Para Nordic World Championships in Sweden
OESTERSUND, Swe.—Natalie Wilkie stormed to her first Para Nordic World Championship title in cross-country skiing, winning the women’s standing skate-ski sprint race on Tuesday in Oestersund, Sweden.
“Claiming the gold medal today was extra special because anything can happen in a sprint race and the competition is so strong, so it feels really good,” said Wilkie.
The seven-time Paralympic medallist was a force all day on the challenging one-kilometre sprint course, posting the top qualifying time in the heats before winning both of her rounds.
Sprint days include one qualifying round prior to the head-to-head heats where standing and sit-skiers ski in heats of six. The top-three athletes in each heat move onto the finals.
“I feel like I’m in decent shape. This course is hilly and has lots of fast corners and downhills. I feel I’m strong on the corners and the fast conditions made it exciting,” said Wilkie.
“In the final, the strategy was to hold on as long as I can. In the final downhill, I was planning to slingshot out of the corner and maintain the lead until the end which I’m happy I was able to do.”
Wilkie held off her top rival, Vilde Nilsen, for the top spot on the podium. The Norwegian was forced to settle for second spot, while Sydney Petersen, of the United States, claimed the bronze.
It’s been quite a week for Wilkie who kicked off the 2023 World Championships by winning her first biathlon title on her 22nd birthday. She backed that performance up by winning the silver medal in the long-distance classic-ski distance race. Wilkie also has two silver medals from the 2019 World Championships, bringing her career total to five.
“I definitely feel different at these World Championships. I am now heading into these races knowing that I always have a good chance of winning, so I do have a lot of confidence,’ added Wilkie.
Canada had two men in the sit-ski sprint final but both came up short of the podium. Derek Zaplotinsky (Smoky Lake, Alta.) was fifth, while Collin Cameron (Bracebridge, Ont.), who won the sprint event at the 2019 World Championships, placed sixth.
Yerbol Khamitov, of Kazakhstan, won the men’s sit-ski race.
Christina Picton (Fonthill, Ont.) was the lone Canadian in the women’s sit-ski sprint event where she had a sixth-place finish of her own.
The veteran of Canada’s Para Nordic Team, Mark Arendz, also earned a spot in the finals of the men’s standing sprint event. Arendz, of Hartsville, P.E.I., ran out of gas in the final, placing fifth.
The Para Nordic World Championships continue on Wednesday with the 10-kilometre individual start biathlon competitions.