The RPC and Ukraine closed the curtain on the Lillehammer 2021 World Para Snow Sports Championships with stunning victories in the cross-country relay races on Sunday (23 January).
The Birkebeineren Ski and Biathlon Stadium saw the RPC extend its Para-Nordic skiing domination with gold in the open relay as Ukraine kicked off the action topping the podium in the mixed event.
The open relay was a particularly glorious moment for RPC’s superstar, Vladislav Lekomtsev because it meant a staggering seven golds in seven events at the Championships.
“I am so happy to win again and with my teammates,” he said after the race.
Ivan Golubkov also notched up an incredible sixth victory. The other members of the golden quartet included big hitters Oleg Ponomarev, who won his third gold, and Vitalii Malyshev, his first.
Between them, they had amassed 14 of the 19 golds achieved by the whole team during the competition, which recorded 54 medals in total. The wins helped put them at the top of the leader board. Ukraine came second on six golds out of 21 medals won, followed by the USA with six golds out of a total of 16.
Malyshev had started the ball rolling on the first leg of the open relay, where he finished fourth behind Belarus’s biathlon gold medallist Yury Holub. Benjamin Daviet, from defending champions France, was neck and neck going into the stadium, but Holub edged him out. Ukraine’s Iaroslav Reshetynskyi was also close on his tail.
Bronze for the Hosts
Sprint specialist, Ponomarev, who competes with guide Andrei Romanov, powered through the second leg to land first, 10 seconds ahead of Belarus’s Vasili Shaptsiaboi with France’s Anthony Chalencon 16 seconds off the pace. Ukraine and Germany were also threatened.
The biggest cheer went to home favourite and world champion, Norway’s Vilde Nilsen, who was just behind in fifth.
Golubkov had a stellar run in the third leg but was caught by Daviet, who was back for a second outing, and he finished 60m ahead. It was down to the so-far unbeatable Lekomtsev, who was waiting on the start line, to claim victory.
All eyes were on him as he sped off on the final lap. And just like he had done six times before at the championships, he crossed the line first. As he threw his head back in delight, his elated teammates rushed to greet him.
The main battle was for the other medals. France’s Anthony Chalencon, who was 15 seconds behind the winning time of 22:12.7, claimed the silver, while Norway’s Thomas Oxaal beat off a challenge from Ukraine’s Anatolii Kovalevskyi to win bronze. The delighted crowds cheered and waved Norwegian flags.
Germany was fifth, Belarus came sixth, followed by the USA in seventh, Poland eighth and Italy ninth.
Liashenko Defends Title
Ukraine’s fortunes changed in the mixed relay when it led from the front to win gold. The Paralympic and defending world champions crossed the finish line 21 seconds ahead of nearest rivals, the RPC, in 28:49. Belarus shook off a strong challenge from the USA to take the bronze.
It was only the second gold for Ukraine in cross-country in Lillehammer. Liudmyla Liashenko had earlier in the week won the long-distance standing race.
The 28-year-old, who triumphed in the mixed relay in PyeongChang 2018 and the Prince George World Championships in 2019, had enough firepower to race two of the four legs and cross the finish line in first.
“I am very happy,” said Liashenko, after winning her third gold medal of the competition, having also won the standing biathlon middle distance, and her seventh overall.
“The team has worked really hard for this. I would like to thank everyone, from the coaches and the athletes, for this victory.”
It was the first gold for her compatriot, Taras Rad, who got the squad off to a flying start in the race. The sitting skier was soon out in front and by the first handover had put 14 seconds between himself and nearest rival Arkadz Shykuts from Belarus, to finish in 3:38.7. The USA’s Oksana Masters, who won two titles this week in sitting events, was just two seconds behind him in third.
Liashenko extended the lead in the second leg and stayed out in front, while a battle raged behind for silver and bronze. Belarus’s two-time world champion Sviatlana Sakhanenka fought to put a gap between herself and the USA’s Sydney Peterson, who won a silver in the middle-distance standing race.
The Belarus athlete, who competes with her guide Dzmitry Budzilovich, dug deep and finished the leg 49 seconds ahead of her rival.
By the third leg, gold was assured for Ukraine. Pavlo Bal, the biathlon middle-distance sitting event winner, never looked under threat as he stretched the lead to 59 seconds ahead of Belarus’ Valiantsina Shyts, a cross-country silver medallist in the sitting middle distance.
It was RPC’s sitting skier Aleksel Bychenok who impressed most by using every ounce of energy to move up the field into third place. The team had been in the sixth, but undeterred, he powered past sitting skier, USA’s world and Paralympic champion, Kendall Gretsch, who was in third, to finish in medal contention and 1:19 behind the leader, Bal.
It was then up to Liashenko, who was also the anchor leg in the last World Championships, to win gold again for Ukraine. A cheer rang out as she climbed the last hill before entering the stadium to finish in 28:49.4.
The RPC’s Stanislav Chokhlaev, a gold and four-time silver medallist, put in a monumental effort with his guide, Oleg Kologilchuk, to get past Belarus’ Mikita Ladzesau to take home another silver in 29:11.2.
It was the sixth medal for his other RPC teammate in the relay, Vera Khlyzova, who won three golds in the visually impaired class in biathlon, and a silver and bronze in cross-country. Natalia Kocherova completed the squad, and also took home three silvers and two bronze medals.
Ladzesau finished 20 seconds behind Chokhlaev to win bronze for Belarus. USA’s Daniella Aravich, who like her teammates Masters and Gretsch also competed in Tokyo 2020 Summer Games, was fourth, Germany’s Johanna Recktenwald came fifth and Poland’s Aneta Gorska in sixth.
The world's best now travel to Sweden for the World Cup Finals starting on Wednesday (26 January) in Ostersund, the host city of the next World Para Snow Sports Championships in 2023.
All the information about the World Para Snow Sports Championships and daily highlights can be found on the Lillehammer 2021 page https://www.paralympic.org/lillehammer-2021.