Vuokatti hosts Para Nordic skiing season-opener World Cup

Eighteen Paralympic gold medallists will be in action in Vuokatti, Finland, for the first World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup of the season from 12-19 December.

They include the most decorated Para cross-country skier of all time Brian McKeever; winner of nine Nordic individual medals Andrea Eskau; and six-time Paralympic champion in biathlon Vitaliy Luk'yanenko.

STRONG TEAMS RETURN

Luk'yanenko will make up part of a large Ukrainian team who topped the Para Nordic medals table at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics. He will be joined by Oksana Shyshkova in the vision impaired races, Taras Rad in the sitting and Oleksandra Kononova in the standing.

McKeever will lead the Canadian team that includes biathlon champion Mark Arendz and cross-country champion Natalie Wilkie. Emily Young, Brittany Hudak and Collin Cameron, who all contributed to Canada's 16 medals from South Korea, will also be there.

Canada will be looking for a strong start in the preparations for the home World Championships in Prince George in February.

Another team with a 16-medal haul from the Paralympics is the USA. Double gold medallist Oksana Masters returns from elbow surgery and will take on team-mate and fellow double Paralympic champion Kendall Gretsch in the sitting races.

Daniel Cnossen, who won six of the US medals, is back to race for the men alongside Aaron Pike. But there will be no Andy Soule following his retirement.

SEEKING MORE GOLD

Sviatlana Sakhanenka from Belarus will hope to reproduce her form from South Korea which saw her win all three gold medals in the cross-country vision impaired races. Teammate and gold medallist in biathlon Yury Holub will try to do the same.

Germany's Para Athletes of the Year Andrea Eskau and Martin Fleig will head their country's podium challenge in Finland. Meanwhile France will be hoping Benjamin Daviet can repeat his performances in PyeongChang where he won double gold in biathlon and also helped his team to relay victory.

FIRST-TIME CHAMPIONS IN ACTION

Kazakhstan’s first Paralympic Winter Games gold medallist Alexandr Kolyadin will lead his country’s eight-strong team in Finland. Japan is another country with a PyeongChang champion in action with Yoshihiro Nitta.

Vuokatti also marks the first major international event for Eui Hyun Sin, who produced one of the most iconic images of the PyeongChang Games when he knelt down holding his country’s flag to celebrate South Korea’s first Winter Paralympics gold.

There will also be three Finnish representatives for the home crowd to cheer. Sini Pyy in the sitting, Inkki Inola in the vision impaired and Lasse Kankkunen in the standing.

Athletes from 21 countries will compete over six competition days with three cross-country races; the sprint, short and middle distances; and three biathlon races including the first running of a new format in biathlon.

The class start will see competitors racing together in the style of a mass start but with some adjustments due to classification.