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Canada's Derek Zaplotinsky captures first World Cup gold medal

2015 Canada Winter Games champion returns to Otway to win Para Nordic World Cup Finals cross-country race

Derek Zaplotinsky returned to the winner’s circle Thursday at Otway Nordic Centre.

The 38-year-old from Smoky Lake, Alta., captured his first career World Cup victory on Day 2 of the Para Nordic World Cup Finals, winning gold in the men’s sitting five-kilometre classic technique cross-country race.

Winning at the World Cup level is a prize that’s eluded Zaplotinsky ever since he started competing in world championships in 2015.

‘’It’s been a lot of years of work to get here and it feels amazing,’’ said Zaplotinsky.

He stopped the clock in 12:59.7, five seconds quicker than silver medalist Megtao Liu of China (13:04.7). Brazilian Cristian Westmeier Ribera won bronze (13:07.3).

Ethan Hess of Pemberton was 16th (15:02.1) and Leo Sammarrelli of Vancouver finished 20th (16:43.4).

In the women's sitting race, Anja Wicker of Germany struck gold in 14:51.6, winning by 15 seconds over Junji Kim of Lorea (15:06.7). Bronze went to Brazil's Aline Do Satos Rocha (15:38;35)

Zaplotinsky has been racing on the Otway trails since 2015, when he was three-time medalist competing for Alberta at the Canada Winter Games.

He won the 800-metre cross-country sprint race that year and nailed two silvers in the longer distance events.

He also competed at the 2019 World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Prince George, finishing fourth in the biathlon sprint and fifth in the mid-distance cross-country.

Last week on the Prince George course the two-time Paralympian posted two fourth-place finishes in the Para Biathlon World Championships.

‘’I’ve been feeling really strong all week and I knew I had the speed,” Zaplotinsky said, who became paralyzed below the waist in motocross racing accident in 2006.

“We’re all so close right now at this level that it was always one second here or there that was costing me. But I finally put one together.’’

Natalie Wilkie of Salmon Arm continued her podium success in the women’s standing class at Otway. She won the silver medal, finishing 55.5 seconds behind gold-medalist Vilke Nilsen of Norway, who set the pace in 15:11.7.

Liudmyla Liashenko of Ukraine claimed bronze (16:4.2). one-tenth of a second ahead of fourth-place Brittany Hudak of Prince Albert, Sask.

Christian Picton of St. Catherines, Ont., was fourth (17:58.9) and Lyne-Marie Bilodeau of Sherbrooke, Que., was seventh (17:58.9).

Wilkie, 23, has been nursing a foot injury all week and it took a last-minute decision whether to enter Thursday’s race.

‘’To get the silver is awesome,’’ the 23-year-one pole skier already with seven Paralympic medals over two Games said. ‘’It was painful this morning when I put my boot on but once the race started I decided to go for it and eventually forgot about it.’’

She won seven medals at the two most recent Paralympic Games in PyeongChang and Beijing.

Crystal Globe biathlon champion Liudmyla Liashenko of Ukraine won bronze (16:14.2), one-tenth of a second ahead of fourth-place Brittany Hudak of Prince Albert, Sask.

After seven straight gold medals this season at the IPC World Cup/IBU World Cup Biathlon/Para Biathlon World Championships, Mark Arendz of Hartsville, P.E.I. was finally beaten in a race.

Taoki Kanayoke of Japan grabbed the winner's spotlight after six days of racing in Prince George, finishing in 13:41.3. Witold Skupien of Poland (13:52.8) won silver followed by Arendz (14:15.2).

‘’The hardest thing today was just switching techniques,"  Arendz told Louis Daignault of the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

‘’I haven’t really touched my classic in a while to focus on the freestyle for biathlon, so I was really trying to feel that finesse that you need in these softer snow conditions.’’

In the vision-impaired women’s class it was a German sweep. Leonie Maria Walter won gold (16:42.6), Linn Kazmeier was the silver medalist (16:57.8) and Johanna Rechtenwald claimed bronze (17:39.4).

Sebastien Moen of Sweden set the pace in the men’s vision-impaired race (14:16.5) followed by Jake Adicoff of the United States (14:22.6) and bronze medalist Inkki Inola of Finland (14:59.7).

Jesse Bachinsky of Kenora, Ont., and his guide Levi Nadlersmith finished 11th (18:19.4).

Friday is a training day at Otway.

Racing resumes Saturday at 10 a.m. with the 1.2 km freestyle sprints, followed on Sunday by the 20 km classic mass start event.