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American biathlete shows her world-class ability on cold windy Prince George course

Canadian Derek Zaplotinsky just misses podium, finishes fourth in men's sit-ski race at Para Biathlon World Championships

Oksana Masters is back on top of the world.

The 34-year-old American sit-skier made a triumphant return to Prince George Wednesday on opening day at the Para Biathlon World Championships, claiming gold in 7.5-kilometre event on a cold blustery morning at Otway Nordic Centre.

“Oh my gosh, I did not expect this at all, considering I missed an entire season of shooting and everything else that happened with my injury last year,” said Masters. “Biathlon is a skill thing, you have to spend time with your rifle and I did not get to do that, so I did not have any expectations of myself.

At the start of last season Masters was in a qualifying race in November in Canmore, Alta., when she fell and broke the middle finger of her left hand. Three surgeries were needed to repair it.

“Leading up (to Wednesday) I could not clean a target or a race in Italy to save my life, so this is a huge shock and a good reminder I know how to do it,” she said. “I just have to trust the process.”

The temperature was -17 C with a breeze that made it feel like -20. The wind whipped up the flags in the range and target flats were moving but Masters shot clean in both rounds.

Masters ended up two seconds ahead of second-place Anja Wicker of Germany.  Masters’ American teammate Kendall Gretsch was third.

“It was really fun, I love seeing Anja on there (on the podium),” said Masters. “If I could be like any biathlete I’d want to be here. She’s just an incredible athlete and her demeanour and approach to biathlon is always calm cool and collected, never frazzled. I’ve been racing with her since I started so she was that athlete I looked up to a lot.”

In 2019 at the Para Nordic World Championships in Prince George, Masters won two gold and a silver in the three biathlon events. The weather for that event was much the same – sunny, windy and cold.

“Same weather, same questioning why I’m doing this out in the woods because it was so cold, but just like in 2019 the tracks are amazing, the volunteers are what makes this event so great,” said Masters. “The cool thing about coming to Prince George and a small community is you feel the whole community and the sport behind that, which is awesome.”

Masters was a double-gold medalist in biathlon and also won gold in cross-country skiing at the 2022 Paralympic Games in Beijing. She’s won 17 Paralympic medals, having also competed in rowing and cycling.

Masters returned to racing in January in Toblach, Italy, for Para World Cup cross-country events and got back to shooting at the World Cup level again a few weeks later in Martell, Italy.

“It was two years of not racing biathlon and Martell was not good,” Masters said. “The sprint was good but all my other races my shooting average was probably 65 per cent, so my confidence going in here was very deflated.

“I didn’t put any expectations on myself, it was just ski well on go through the process. This year is a world championship year but I’m keeping my mind and my goals for (Paralympics in) Milan-Cortina for 2026.”

In the men’s 7.5 km sit-ski, Liu Zixu of China edged Taras Rad of Ukraine for gold, while Liu Mengtao of China claimed bronze.

Derek Zaplotinsky of Smoky Lake, Alta., the lone Canadian in the 15-competitor men’s race, was fourth.    

The standing and vision impaired races followed the sit-ski events.

Racing resumes Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and spectators can check out the schedule here.All races are free to attend.