Mark Arendz ready to risk it all for elusive biathlon gold
4-time Paralympic medallist still covets historic win for Canada
Mark Arendz knew he needed to take a risk if he wanted to win the men's 12.5-kilometre standing biathlon at the Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
With a stiff wind in his face and less-than-ideal conditions as the hot sun turned the snow inside the arena area of the race into slush, Arendz buckled down for a battle to the finish.
With one lap to go and the narrowest of leads, Arendz went into the range prepared to rush through his shooting a little more than normal.
"That's what I came here for, that gold medal," he said, acknowledging the risk involved in that decision.
With competitors bearing down on him, Arendz was nearly perfect on the range — except for one target. That costly miss sent him from the gold-medal spot to bronze.
Arendz now has two medals from these Games to go along with the two he won in Sochi, but he still desperately wants to claim Canada's first Paralympic biathlon gold.
"I'm happy that I took that chance. I put myself in that position and that's all I could ask for," he said.
"That one mistake hurts a little bit right now but I'll get over it."
Learning from the best ever
Arendz has been working relentlessly over the past four years trying to perfect his skiing and shooting technique. The 28-year-old from Hartsville, P.E.I., trains in Canmore, Alta., with his idol Brian McKeever.
"He's been an amazing role model for me the last few years," Arendz said. "He shown me the real difference in the top athletes."
When Arendz won silver in the 7.5 km standing biathlon, McKeever was there to meet him at the finish line. A day later, McKeever went out and captured his 11th gold medal, becoming the most decorated Canadian Winter Paralympian ever.
Arendz was watching that performance and wanted to duplicate it in his race today.
"We kind of feed off each other," Arendz said. "His race yesterday got me pumped up for today. I tried to take some of that energy."
Arendz says he's ready to take the lead when it comes to being Canada's top cross-country skier at the Paralympics, but he's in no hurry to see McKeever go.
"I don't want that time to come but I know it will happen," Arendz said. "He has a wealth of experience over the years and Paralympics. If I can learn half of that I'll be really happy."
One of the biggest keys to Arendz's success has been his ability to hone in the mental aspects in his biathlon races and zero-in at the most pivotal moments.
He's done a lot of visualization.
"I have this imagery line across the snow and I cross it and think I'm a shooter," he said. "I come through the tunnel. Lift up my glasses and essentially I tell myself I'm a shooter now."
It's a small thing but it allows Arendz to block out all of the distractions and focus on the important things while his heart races — wind, if his coach has his rifle ready, what lane he's in and then finally taking aim at the target.
"I forget about how the skiing is, I forget how my body is feeling and just focus on on the range," he said. "As I'm laying down it's about taking those first couple breaths and then it's all natural. Tunnel vision."
And when he's in that zone success and calm comes very easy for Arendz.
"My shooting is my meditation. When it's on I'm in a very natural meditative state."