Canada's Wilkie, Arendz capture individual biathlon gold at Para nordic world championship
Canada's Para nordic team added a record-breaking two gold medals and a bronze in the 12.5-kilometre individual race at the world championship event on Friday in Östersund, Sweden.
Natalie Wilkie, of Salmon Arm, B.C., won her third world championship title of the week in the women's standing event.
On the men's side, Mark Arendz, of Hartsville, P.E.I., raced to a second straight victory.
Christina Picton, of Fonthill, Ont., secured her first world championship podium appearance with bronze in the women's sit-ski race.
The three-medal day brings the Canadian team's total to 13. Canada's previous best world championship medal haul was 10 at the 2019 event in Prince George, B.C.
"It has definitely been a fun week as a team," said Wilkie, the youngest member of the squad. "The medals are obviously great, but just to see the entire team perform so well is awesome to see. Derek [Zaplotinsky] is having some of his best ever results and Christina [Picton] winning her first world championship medal today is exciting.
"It is super cool to have so much success together."
Wilkie kicked off the triumphant week by winning her first biathlon title on her 22nd birthday Saturday before she claimed silver in the long-distance classic-ski race on Sunday.
'It came down to last lap'
The emerging nordic star sprinted to her first world championship title in cross-country skiing with a victory in the women's standing skate-ski sprint race on Tuesday.
Wilkie, a two-time Paralympian, was perfect on the range and knocked down all 20 shots with a time of 38:11.5.
"It is definitely cool to win my second biathlon title here," Wilkie said. "At the start of the race I was a bit frustrated because my shooting times were quite slow, and it was showing on the splits, but I know the race isn't won in the first shooting."
The 12.5-km individual race adds one-minute penalties to the total time for every missed shot.
"It came down to last lap. The Ukraine athletes both missed so taking a bit longer in the range today really paid off for me," Wilkie said. "I shot clean again and went as fast as I could and was able to open up a bigger gap."
Ukraine's Bohdana Konashuk finished second at 38:36.9 (0+0+0+1). Liudmyla Liashenko, of Ukraine, was third at 39:11.6 (1+0+0+2). Brittany Hudak, of Prince Albert, Sask., missed one shot in her final round and dropped to fourth with a time of 40:14.4 (0+0+0+1).
"My biathlon success earlier this year in Finland gave me the belief that I can do it. I just have to stay focused on the shooting, stay patient, and it is possible," said Wilkie, who's won seven cross-country ski medals at the last two Paralympic Games.
"It is a really fun course [here], lots of hills, twisty downhills and super fun corners which is one of my strengths. But I think what the best is this is the same course able bodied skiers race on so it makes us feel so legit."
Arendz collects 5th world championship title
Arendz claimed his fifth world championship title with a second-straight win in Sweden after the men's standing 12.5km race.
"I took what worked very well for me two days ago in the middle-distance race. I was steady at the start and built throughout the race," said Arendz, after securing his 12th world championship podium. "I skied relaxed but could transfer good power in my movements."
The four-time Paralympian knocked off all 20 targets in each of his four stops on the range as he clocked a winning time of 32:117.5.
"The priority was focus on the range which I felt in control of," Arendz said. "The conditions were ideal today. I made some tweaks after the last race to the rifle and I felt more comfortable today."
Grygorii Vovchynskyi, of Ukraine, shot clean and finished second at 33:29.6. Benjamin Daviet, of France, took third with a time of 34:10.3 (0+0+1+0).
"I was never sure what to expect from the season after taking time off this spring, but it has been fantastic," Arendz added. "These are some of my best performances and results of my life."
Arendz, 32, has bounced back from double heel surgery during the off-season to win his third medal of the 2023 world championship and secured the 17th world championship podium appearance of his career.
Picton claims 1st world championship medal
Picton was nearly perfect on the range, hitting 19 of 20 targets to win bronze with a time of 52:38.9.
"It was a pretty exciting and unexpected result today," Picton said. "I feel so happy with how everything came together today. The skis were so fast, my coaches and the support team around me did a great job making my final preparations easy and relaxed."
The 2022 Paralympian missed her lone shot in the second round of shooting.
"My time on the range was all about keeping composed and doing what I know I can do to hit the targets," added the 29-year-old. "I have so much respect for the women I raced today. I've been chasing them all week here at worlds, so it was pretty neat to be among them on the podium for the first time."
Kendall Gretsch, of the U.S, captured gold with a time of 43:42.0 (0+0+0+0). Germany's Andrea Eskau was also perfect in shooting to secure silver in 50:10.2.
Derek Zaplotinsky, of Smoky Lake, Alta., was the only other Canadian to start on Friday and finished eighth in the men's 12.5-km sit-ski race with a time of 43:58.1 (0+1+0+1).
The Para nordic world championship continues Saturday with the 10-km individual start skate-ski race.