By Gabby Naranja
(Note: This post has been updated to include comments from U.S. Paralympics Nordic coach Eileen Carey.)
Just as paramount to the prized top step of the podium is the process of getting there.
U.S. skier, Oksana Masters, can attest to that after spending the beginning of the season battling illness and then emerging with double victories at the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) World Cup races in Finsterau, Germany.
“I love to race and get excited on every start line,” Masters, who took her second win of the week in the women’s 1-kilometer sitting sprint on Saturday, Feb. 27, wrote in an email. “I unfortunately was sick for a majority of the racing season and I had to miss lots of intensity. When I was healthy to do intensity we made sure that it would be the most beneficial and get the most out of it. I was so shocked to race as well as I did in Finsterau.”
Masters crossed first in a time of 3:26.51. With the next series of races in Finsterau being the 2017 IPC World Championships, Masters regarded the World Cup good practice for next year’s competition.
“One of the challenges I had was the technicality of the course.” Masters wrote. “I am still learning how handle my sit ski without losing speed especially during the technical aspects. The biggest part [where] I am losing time is all in the technical parts of the course. So this year I took every opportunity to nail each technical aspect of the course one by one. This was great to practice…”
Finishing in second place was Maria Iovleva of Russia, and in third place was Andrea Eksau of Germany.
Another American Joy Rondeau also raced in Saturday’s sit sprint. She finished the day in ninth, missing the semifinal by one spot.
On Saturday, Ukraine’s Oleksandra Kononova not only celebrated her birthday, but also a tie for first with Russia’s Anna Milenina in the women’s 1 k freestyle standing sprint.
After review of the photo finish, jury members found the image too close to call and ruled both as winners in a time of 3:18.86. Ukraine’s Liudmyla Liashenko took the final podium spot in third.
Also competing in Saturday’s standing sprint was Canada’s Emily Weekes. Weekes advanced to the semifinal, where she finished eighth overall, just two spots off of advancing to the final. Lindsey McDonald, also of Canada, finished the day in 13th.
In the women’s final sprint event of the day, the 1 k visually impaired freestyle sprint, Russia’s Mikhalina Lysova won in a time of 3:23.25. Crossing the finish line after her was Ukraine’s Oksana Shyshkova in second and Elena Remizova of Russia in third. American Mia Zutter also competed in the visually impaired sprint, racing to an 11th place overall.
In the men’s field, it was a strong showing for Americans Andy Soule and Sean Halsted. Both advanced to the men’s 1 k sitting sprint final where Soule placed third and Halsted sixth.
“A great dayof racing and a lot of fun on SPRINT DAY! here in Finsterau,” Soule wrote on twitter, regarding Saturday’s race.
Russia’s Ivan Golubkov racked his third individual win of the week, finishing first in the sit sprint in a time of 2:55.18. Crossing in second place was Ukraine’s Maksym Yarovyi.
The three Canadian competitors, Collin Cameron, Derek Zaplotinsky, and Yves Bourque, all advanced to the semifinal where they finished ninth, 11th, and 12th, respectively.
In the men’s 1 k standing sprint, Russia’s Vladislav Lekomtsev took first in a time of 2:40.58, ahead of Russian teammate Rushan Minnegulov in second and Ukraine’s Grygorii Vovchynskyi in third.
Canada’s Mark Arendz raced to an eighth-place finish overall and teammates Louis Fortin and Andy Lin finished the day in 20th and 21st, respectively.
The sprint final for the men’s visually impaired 1 k sprint saw a Russian sweep, with Stanislav Chokhlaev in first, Vladimir Udaltcov in second and Oleg Ponomarev in third.
Chokhlaev won the event in a time of 2:42.31, for his third individual victory of the week.
Sunday: Fourth Podium for Masters in Third
The unexpected podiums, at times, are the most prized. After a six days of racing at the IPC World Cup in Finsterau, Masters closed the competition week with another podium in her final event on Sunday, Feb. 29: the women’s 10 k sitting biathlon race.
“Aahh this was such an amazing unexpected podium,” Masters wrote on Twitter after Sunday’s race. “My biathlon shooting is heading in the right direction.”
Previously, Masters had claimed two victories in Finsterau along with a second-place finish in last Monday’s biathlon sprint.
“The biathlon days were super tricky because it was so windy and often the wind would be so unpredictable between each shot the wind would change,” Masters wrote in an email. “Everyone is on the same course and is dealing with the same conditions and I tried to take it all as opportunity.”
Her third place-finish on Sunday made Masters four for four — all the individual races she entered, she finished on the podium. Masters completed the course in a time of 36:06.0 after skiing three penalty laps (0+0+1+2).
“I kept myself calm by not putting any expectations on myself especially for the biathlon, so I just focused on the technical skiing aspect and took the time in the range at the tempo of what I was comfortable with,” she wrote.
Ahead of Masters was Russia’s Svetlana Konovalova in first and Germany’s Anja Wicker in second. Konovalova finished in a time of 35:51.7 after three misses (0+2+0+1), while Wicker cleaned the four-stage race.
The second American to compete in the sitting biathlon event was Rondeau, who finished in eighth overall with eleven penalties (1+5+3+2).
In the women’s 10 k standing race, Kononova of Ukraine skied away victorious in a time of 30:50.5 and one penalty (0+0+1+0). Finishing in second was Russia’s Milenin , also with one miss (0+0+0+1). Taking the third podium spot was Ukraine’s Liashenko with two penalties (0+0+1+1).
Canada’s Weekes finished the day in sixth overall with two penalties (1+0+0+1).
Ukraine’s Shyshkova won the women’s 10 k visually impaired biathlon event in a time of 32:40.9 after shooting 100 percent. Lysova of Russia took second place with three misses (0+2+0+1) and Remizova third after missing four shots (1+2+1+0).
In the men’s biathlon events, Grigory Murygin of Russia won the 12.5 k sitting race in a time of 36:38.3 after shooting clean. Russian teammate, Roman Petushkov finished second, with one miss (0+0+0+1) and Germany’s Martin Fleig third with four penalties (0+0+0+4). Soule finished just off the podium in fourth after skiing four penalty laps (1+2+1+0).
“I have been focusing on some minor tweaks in my skiing form and range procedure that I identified with the help of my coaches earlier this year,” Soule wrote in an email regarding his progress this season.
“Both Andy and Oksana have made great gains this winter and the results from Finsterau were a reflection of those gains,” U.S. Paralympics Nordic coach Eileen Carey wrote in an email, recapping the week. “Andy was working on conserving energy in the sprint qualifier and semis to have enough juice left for a strong finals performance, and his medal in that event was indicative of that work. He will continue to tweak his warm-up routine and his approach to semis to see what works best for him, but his strong performance in Finsterau was a good indication of what he is capable of.
“Oksana has been very strong in cross country and has been working hard on bringing her biathlon up to the same level,” Carey added. “She medaled in both of the biathlon events she competed in, and with the strongest field and in the trickiest wind we have seen yet this winter. This was a huge step forward for her and I think gives her more confidence going into the World Cup finals this month in Finland.”
Halsted finished 10th in the final biathlon race with 10 misses (2+2+3+3). Zaplotinsky of Canada finished ninth after missing three shots (1+2+0+0) and Canadian teammate Cameron finished 11th, with 10 misses.
In the men’s 12.5 k visually impaired biathlon event, Chokhlaev came away with the title after shooting clean, completing the course in a time 33:44.6. Second place went to Nikolay Polukhin of Russia, who also cleaned. Finishing third, also with 100 percent shooting was Ukraine’s Oleksandr Kazik.
The final men’s biathlon event of the day, the men’s 12.5 k standing competition went to Russia’s Lekomtsev who shot clean and completed the course in 31:34.1. France’s Benjamin Daviet took second after one miss (0+0+0+1) and Russia’s Alexsandr Pronkov took the final podium spot in third with one penalty (0+1+0+0). Canada’s Arendz did not start on Sunday.
With the IPC World Cup in Finsterau complete, racers take a break before heading to Vuokatti, Finland, for the season-ending World Cups March 15-20.
“A full day of pouring rain in the beginning of the competition week put the trails in rough shape and the OC delayed one of the race days so we ended up racing four days in a row,” Carey explained. “It was the right decision for the courses and the race crew did an incredible job to make sure we had exceptional skiing for the event, but it made for a challenging schedule. Some athletes ended up sitting out a race they may have otherwise competed in, but others competed in all 4 races. Ultimately, it turned out to be a great opportunity to work on recovery strategies.
“While we likely wouldn’t have a Games schedule that included that much racing, there are so many other factors in a Games situation that require a ton of energy,” she added. “Figuring out how to make sure you get what you need as an athlete to best prepare yourself for races is a critical skill and one we will always welcome improving upon.”