By Andrew Mitchell
Mt. Washington on Vancouver Island hosted the International Paralympic Committee’s Biathlon and Cross Country World Cup Finals this past week, drawing almost 150 disabled athletes from more than 20 nations. It was the first time the championships had ever taken place in Canada, and despite the snow, rain, wind and rapidly changing course conditions, all of the events went off as planned.
In IPC competition, each athlete is assessed a time handicap based on their degree of disability, and are classified as either visually impaired, sit-skiers, or standing athletes with limb amputation or disability. Athletes can appeal if they feel they’ve been placed in the wrong category, and are reassessed before every event as their conditions may improve or worsen over time.
On the opening day of competition, Saskatchewans’ Collette Bourgonje was Canada’s top racer with a gold medal in the women’s sit-ski biathlon sprint. It was blowing snow and wind, making it slow going for the racers.
“It was a challenging day of skiing,” she said. “Conditions were really snowy and windy, and there were no tracks on the trail so it made it more difficult. On the whole, it was a really fun race and I am happy to come out on top.”
In the men’s race the top Canadian athlete was Vancouver’s Lou Gibson, a rookie with the ParaNordic team. He placed fourth in his category.
In the long distance sit-ski event the following day, Bourgonje picked up a second gold medal, followed by B.C.’s Joan Reid, a member of the national development team.
Lou Gibson was eighth on the men’s side, as a Chinese skier made history for his country in the men’s event.
In the women’s visually impaired category, Robbie Weldon and guide Brian Berry, both of Ontario, won silver behind a Russian team, while Courtney Knight and guide Lisa Wambold of Vancouver placed third.
On the men’s side, visually impaired skier Jerry King and guide Robert Cazzola placed third behind two German teams.
In the standing race, Vancouver’s Mary Benson was sixth.
On Tuesday, athletes competed in the long distance biathlon. On the men’s side, Jerry King and Robert Cazzola picked up another bronze medal, while Colette Bourgonje picked up her third gold by a gap of close to 15 minutes once missed shots were assessed.
The competitions wrapped up on Wednesday.