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Canadian para biathlete Arendz continues hot streak at world championships

Salmon Arm's Natalie Wilkie finishes in dead-heat, shares gold with Ukrainian biathlete on opening day at Otway

After going 3-for-3 at the Para Biathlon World Cup stage in Martell, Italy, Canadian Mark Arendz is locked and loaded as he takes aim at the world championships.

The 34-year-old Prince Edward Island native begins his quest for gold this afternoon on the slopes of Prince George at Otway Nordic Centre and he’s hoping to carry that wave of momentum from the latest World Cup tour stop with him to the medal podium.

On Wednesday he won the first race of the Para Biathlon World Championships, the 7.5 kilometre biathlon sprint, finishing in 21:05.5, 20.5 seconds ahead of silver medalist Serhii Romaniuk of Ukraine. Marco Maier of Germany won bronze.

That came right after a thrilling women’s standing race in which Liudmyla Liashenko pf Ukraine and B.C.’s own Natalie Wilkie of Salmon Arm finished in a dead heat, each being awarded gold after posting identical finishing times (24:11.3).

It was another satisfying performance for Arendz, proving he’s fully recovered from injuries that plagued his 2021-22 season. He underwent surgery after the 2022 Paralympic Games in Beijing to remove bone spurs from his heels and with that nagging pain gone he’s been able to focus on his ski technique and working out the bugs on the shooting range to the point where he feels on top of his game.

“I’m really happy with how everything started this season, kind of picking up from last year,” Arendz said. “I wasn’t sure that was going to be the case. Last year was a very different year for myself and my training and I wasn’t sure how the body would react to a full year of training again.

“I had surgery on both heels after the Games, which meant taking four months off and last year was just kind of let’s see what happens and it looked really good afterwards, watching it. This year it’s been back to a normal schedule and I was curious to  see how it would end up. I’m really excited it just kept going, if nor progressed even further, coming into this event and (Para World Cup) Finals as well.”

In Toblach, Italy in Para World Cup cross-country events in late January he  won gold and silver and had a fifth-place result, then traveled to Martell, Italy, where he reeled off three wins in Para Biathlon World Cup races.

Arendz, who lost his left arm above the elbow when he was seven in a farming accident, competes in the standing category under the LW6 category, which factors his disability into his final race times.

Arendz knows the competition will be tough to beat this week in Prince George with the likes of Maier, Romaniuk, Benjamin Daviet of France and Grygorii Vovchynskyi of Ukraine gunning for world titles at Otway.

The Para World Cup Finals start next Wednesday in Prince George with one biathlon and three cross-country races scheduled. Arendz is relieved he can focus exclusively on biathlon this week.

“There’s a little extra bit with world championships, so it’s good to be able to have a clean focus going into them and then we can have some fun with finals,” he said.

After a dry winter, recent snowfalls on top of a thick layer of artificial snow made trail conditions at Otway just about perfect, but the -16 C wind chill was much less than ideal for everybody on opening day.

“I know there was some worried not even a few weeks ago but it’s great conditions now,” said Arensz. “We’d love to have it a little warmer but that is coming. It’s great to start the championships like this. We want to remind the visitors that it is cold in Canada.”

In the vision impaired races that followed, Germany swept the women’s medal podium. Linn Kazmaier and her guide Floria Baumann captured gold, silver went to Leonie Maria Walter (Christian Krasman) and Johanna Recktenwald (Pirmin Strecker) clamed bronze.

Olexander Kazik of Ukraine (Serhil Kucheriavyi) won the men’s vision impaired sprint. Anthony Chalencon (Florian Michelon) of France and Iaroslav Reshetynskyi (Dmytro Drahun) of Ukraine took silver and bronze respectively.