Paralympic champions and breakout stars headline a star-studded line-up at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships, which get underway on Saturday (16 February) in Prince George, Canada.
MEN'S VISION IMPAIRED
Canada’s most decorated Paralympian, Brian McKeever, will be strong favourite to win multiple golds in the men’s vision impaired. But there will be at least one race the 17-time Paralympic medallist will not win, as he will miss the opening day of cross-country competition to attend the Laureus Sports Awards.
At PyeongChang 2018, McKeever continued rewriting the record books in the sport winning three cross-country vision impaired races for a second consecutive Paralympic Games to become a 13-time champion. He became the most successful cross-country skier in Paralympic history.
Hoping to challenge McKeever’s dominance is Vitaliy Lukyanenko of Ukraine. Sweden’s Zebastian Modin is also expected to be in the hunt for the medals after winning two golds in the opening World Cup of the 2019 season in Vuokatti, Finland.
Another Laureus nominee, USA’s Oksana Masters, is targeting medals rather than titles as she returns to form after two elbow surgeries.
Germany’s Female Para Athlete Of 2018, Andrea Eskau, will vie for top spot with Masters.
The 47-year old veteran won six medals including two golds at the Winter Paralympics in South Korea in biathlon. She followed that up in the summer by winning a world title in her other sport, Para cycling.
She is hoping for another podium finish in Prince George.
“If I am able to do that, I will be really happy because I am getting older and the youngsters are really strong."
Kendall Gretsch of the USA is one of those youngsters.
Gretsch won all five biathlon races on the World Cup circuit leading into Prince George to add to her stunning double gold debut in PyeongChang.
Canada’s Mark Arendz is hoping to lead the way on home snow.
Arendz won six medals at PyeongChang 2018; the most for any Canadian at a single Paralympic Games.
“We (Canada) had so much momentum in PyeongChang. It’s a great opportunity for us to keep that momentum going,” Arendz says
But fellow Paralympic champion Benjamin Daviet of France is looking to steal the show.
Daviet is coming into the Worlds on quite a roll. At the last World Cup event in Ostersund, he won the men’s cross-country long-distance and biathlon individual and sprint.
The USA’S Paralympic champion Daniel Cnossen has been practically unstoppable on the World Cup circuit in 2019. In Ostersund, he won all six men’s sitting events across cross-country and biathlon.
Cnossen had to adjust to added attention after his achievements in PyeongChang. He has been asked to speak at schools and in the community, while juggling training and graduate studies at Harvard University.
Cnossen lost his legs after stepping on an explosive device in 2009 while serving in the US military in Afghanistan.
Others expected to be in the hunt for medals in Prince George include Ukraine’s Maksym Yarovyi and Taras Rad in addition to Martin Fleig of Germany.
WOMEN'S VISION IMPAIRED
Ukraine’s Oksana Shyshkova of Ukraine is hoping for another run like she had at the last world championships in 2017 where she won six medals.
She followed that up by winning her first ever Paralympic titles, in the biathlon middle distance and cross-country mixed relay in PyeongChang.
But it is Clara Klug of Germany who leads the biathlon World Cup standings this season after finishing first in races in Vuokatti and Ostersund.
Shyshkova’s Ukrainian teammate Oleksandra Kononova of Ukraine has been practically unbeatable in biathlon this season in the standing category.
But she has two teenagers looking to stop her winning run in its tracks.
At just 17 years old, Vilde Nilsen of Norway is also expected to be in the hunt for medals. In this season’s opening World Cup in Vuokatti, she swept all three cross-country races following her surprise silver medal at PyeongChang 2018.
Canada’s Natalie Wilkie could be another fan favourite in Prince George. She is competing in her home province British Columbia.
Wilkie had quite the debut at her first Paralympics in 2018.
At 17, she was Canada’s youngest athlete. And she went home with a gold, silver and a bronze.
Canada’s Para Nordic team won 16 medals in all in PyeongChang.
That means the hometown fans could be cheering quite loudly over the next week at the first Para Nordic Worlds hosted in Canada.
Catch all the action live from Prince George on World Para Nordic Skiing’s website https://www.paralympic.org/prince-george-2019 and Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/paranordic, where live results are also available.