Sweet 16 for Canada’s Nordic Skiers at Paralympic Winter Games

    March 18, 2018

    PYEONGCHANG, Kor.—Canada’s Nordic skiers will leave the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games with 16 medals around their necks.
     
    The Canucks put an exclamation mark on their record-setting performance, adding a silver and bronze medal in the mixed and open relay races on the final day of the Games Sunday in PyeongChang, Korea.
     
    Mark Arendz, of Hartsville, P.E.I., etched his name in the history books by setting a record for winning the most medals ever in one Games by a Canadian Winter Paralympian after anchoring the mixed 4x2.5 kilometre relay team to a silver medal.
     
    Natalie Wilkie (Salmon Arm, B.C.), Emily Young (North Vancouver), Chris Klebl (Canmore, Alta.) and Arendz clocked a second-place time of 25:21.9.
     
    “This is fantastic. It is our first relay medal ever. It is great to end the Games with a historic moment that we get to share with each other for the rest of our lives,” said Arendz, who will carry Canada’s flag into the Closing Ceremonies. “This is a great team of two veterans and two rookies. I’m so happy we were able to get this done.”
     
    The 17-year-old Natalie Wilkie, who already had a gold and bronze medal in the cross-country ski races coming into the final day, she skied the first classic-ski leg for the Canucks, and handed off to Young in fifth spot. The 27-year-old Young, who shared the podium with Wilkie in yesterday’s middle-distance race, had the Canadians in seventh spot at the midway point of the race following her skate-ski leg, leaving it up to the Paralympic veterans to bring it home.
     
    “Our team worked so well together. It looked a little scary in the beginning, but we knew we had Chris in third and Mark anchoring which was going to be the difference,” said Young. “We each held our own in our individual sections and it is so fun to win this one as a team.”
     
    Klebl, who won a gold medal at the 2014 Games, closed the gap for the Canucks while making up 27 seconds on the field. Thanks to a brilliant effort by Klebl, the 28-year-old Arendz began the final classic-leg in fourth spot. Charging out of the stadium, Arendz hunted down Japan’s Taiki Kawayoke, before bombing past Germany’s Alexander Ehler down the final hill into the finishing stretch to take the silver, and make it six medals in as many starts.
     
    “I came in here thinking I could get three medals, but to get six is incredible,” said Arendz. “Today’s is a special one. I am happy we got this done, but there is no way I could do another race. I’m done.”
     
    The team from the Ukraine won the gold in the mixed relay format, finishing with a time of 24:31.9.
     
    Germany held on for the bronze medal with a time of 25:25.3.
     
    The high-powered Canadians weren’t done there.
     
    Paralympic legend, Brian McKeever (Canmore, Alta.) – along with his guides Graham Nishikawa (Whitehorse) and Russell Kennedy (Canmore, Alta.) – and sit-skier Collin Cameron (Sudbury, Ont.) added a bronze medal in open 4x2.5 kilometre relay.
     
    The 28-year-old Cameron skied the first and third legs of the race, while McKeever skate-skied the second and anchor leg.
     
    “I just tried to pace it properly and be as fast as I could. It was so much fun,” said Cameron. “This is my first relay, so I was really looking forward to this. I am super happy to leave here with three medals.”
     
    Cameron, who had two biathlon bronze medals earlier in the week, finished the opening loop in eighth spot. Nishikawa and McKeever made up huge time in their first rip around the 2.5-kilometre track to put the Canadians into fourth spot.
     
    Cameron held his spot in the last lap until dropping up a pole up the final hill, costing him considerable time while having to circle back to pick it up. With three nations passing him, he came through the final exchange in sixth spot, 25 seconds behind the Ukraine team in third.
     
    Russell Kennedy, who also competed for Canada at last month’s Olympics, led the 13-time Paralympic gold medallist McKeever, for one final ski around the Alpensia Biathlon Centre. When all was said and done, it appeared the Canadians would finish in fourth place, but the Ukraine’s were handed a 30 second penalty for an early exchange, moving the Canadians onto the final step of the podium.
     
    It was the 17th Paralympic medal for the 38-year-old McKeever.
     
    “It’s incredible to get two relay medals today. We knew we had a shot if we all had really good days,” said McKeever. “What Mark, Chris and the girls did in that first relay was awesome. These races are so interesting with all different disabilities together. It is never over until last tour around, and in both cases, we saw that today with lots of different lead changes out there.”
     
    France handily won the open relay with a time of 22:46.6. Norway celebrated the silver at 23:09.1.
     
    Canadian Para-Nordic Team Highlights:
    Ø 16 medals are a best ever Paralympic performance;
    Ø Mark Arendz named Closing Ceremony flag bearer after winning six medals in six races (1 gold, 2 silvers, 3 bronze) …setting record for most medals by a Winter Paralympian in one Games;
    Ø Every member of Canada’s Para-Nordic World Cup goes home with a medal;
    Ø The youngest member of Canadian Paralympic Team, 17-year-old Natalie Wilkie, won a complete set of cross-country ski medals;
    Ø Other first-time Paralympians, Collin Cameron, won two bronze in biathlon, and one relay bronze; Brittany Hudak won a biathlon bronze; Emily Young won silver and bronze in cross-country skiing;
    Ø Opening Ceremonies flag bearer, Brian McKeever, became Canada’s most decorated Winter Paralympian with 17 medals. McKeever captured the triple treble, winning three individual cross-country ski gold medals in the last three Olympics. He also added a relay bronze;
    Ø Canadian Team wins first-ever medals in Paralympic relays.
     
    Complete Cross County Relay Results: http://bit.ly/2DA71zt
     
    Photos are available at photos.paralympic.ca (sign up for an account) and at Dropbox. Photos are free for editorial use and credit Canadian Paralympic Committee.

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