Canada's Natalie Wilkie races to gold at Para nordic world championship in Sweden

Canada's Natalie Wilkie, left, held off Norway's Vilde Nilsen, right, to win her first Para-nordic world championship title in cross-country skiing with a victory in the women's standing skate-ski sprint race on Tuesday in Östersund, Sweden. (Parasport Sweden - image credit)
Canada's Natalie Wilkie, left, held off Norway's Vilde Nilsen, right, to win her first Para-nordic world championship title in cross-country skiing with a victory in the women's standing skate-ski sprint race on Tuesday in Östersund, Sweden. (Parasport Sweden - image credit)

Canada's Natalie Wilkie sprinted to her first Para nordic world championship title in cross-country skiing with a victory in the women's standing skate-ski sprint race on Tuesday in Östersund, Sweden.

The seven-time Paralympic medallist posted the top qualifying time in the heats before she won both of her rounds on the one-kilometre sprint course.

"Claiming the gold medal today was extra special," said the native of Salmon Arm, B.C.

"Anything can happen in a sprint race and the competition is so strong, so it feels really good. 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.

Wilkie held off Norway's Vilde Nilsen for the top spot on the podium while American Sydney Petersen claimed bronze.

"In the final, the strategy was to hold on as long as I can," said the 22-year-old. "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 opened the 2023 world championship by winning her first biathlon title on her 22nd birthday Saturday before she claimed silver in the long-distance classic-ski race on Sunday. Wilkie also has two silver medals from the 2019 world championships, which brings her career total to five.

Canadians inside top 10 in sit-ski sprint

"I definitely feel different at these world championships," Wilkie added. "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."

Canada had two men compete in the sit-ski sprint final. Derek Zaplotinsky of Smoky Lake, Alta., was fifth, while Collin Cameron of Bracebridge, Ont., who won the sprint event at 2019 worlds, finished sixth.

Kazakhstan's Yerbol Khamitov won the men's sit-ski race.

Christina Picton of Fonthill, Ont., was the lone Canadian in the women's sit-ski sprint event where she claimed a sixth-place finish.

Mark Arendz also earned a spot in the finals of the men's standing sprint event. Arendz, who hails from Hartsville, P.E.I., was fifth.

The Para nordic world championship continues Wednesday with the 10 km individual start biathlon competitions.