Canada’s Chris Klebl surprised the field and shocked the Russian crowd at the Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center by taking a stunning gold medal in the men’s 10 km sitting cross-country race in Sochi on Sunday.
Klebl, of Canmore, Alta., took the lead in the race at the four-kilometre mark and never gave it up, as Russian sit-skier Roman Petushkov’s bid for a seventh gold medal came to a crashing halt.
"The Paralympics are once every four years and this is my third,” Klebl said. “I've been doing this for 10 years. It was the last opportunity for the next four years. I'm pretty excited."
To say that the victory is surprising for the 42-year-old Klebl is an understatement. His highest finish so far in Sochi was a fourth-place showing in the open relay with Brian McKeever, he didn’t win a medal at his two previous Paralympics, and was 21st in the 10K at the worlds in 2013, though he did win the event at the world championships in 2011.
He crossed the line in 30 minutes, 52 seconds, which was 14.5 seconds ahead of Ukrainian Maksym Yarovyi in the silver medal position. Russia’s Grigory Murygin took bronze, pushing Petushkov completely off the podium.
"It's been a long Paralympics and it's the last race of the day. The conditions weren't super fast but it was a good race,” Klebl said.
Petushkov, who was possibly fatigued after a busy schedule of races, was trying to become the first Paralympian in history to win seven gold medals in one Games, besting his own mark set a day earlier when he won his sixth gold in the open relay, eclipsing the record set by Canadian alpine star Lauren Woolstencroft and German skier Verena Bentele in 2010.
That was likely the reason why the men’s sitting 10 km race was pushed to the back of Sunday’s cross-country programme, in order to give the Sochi crowd a grandstand finish to the Russian-dominated proceedings.
But Klebl had other plans in mind, and is now the owner of Canada’s most surprising gold in Sochi.
Yves Bourque of Bécancour, Que., was 24th in the race, while Sébastien Fortier of Quebec City was 26th.
More Russian sweeps
In what might be the final race of her Paralympic career, Colette Bourgonje of Prince Albert, Sask., finished 13th in the women’s 5 km sitting cross-country race. The 52-year-old competed in her seventh Winter Paralympics in Sochi and 10th overall, and owns 10 medals (three silver, seven bronze) over her Paralympic career.
Andrea Eskau of Germany won the race with Ukranian Lyudmyla Pavlenko in second, 18.4 seconds behind. Oksana Masters of the United States won bronze.
Aleksandr Pronkov led a Russian sweep in the standing 10 km category, narrowly beating countryman Vladimir Kononov by 0.8 seconds. Vladislav Lekomtcev took the bronze, as Russians occupied the top five spots in the race.
Mark Arendz of Hartsville, P.E.I., started strong but faded as the race wore on, finishing in 11th. He will leave Sochi with two medals – silver in the 7.5 km biathlon, and bronze in the 12.5 km biathlon. Louis Fortin of Fredericton was 36th.
Russians saw another podium sweep in the women’s 5 km visually impaired race. Elena Remizova won gold in 13:23.8, while teammate Mikhalina Lysova was 3.9 seconds behind for silver. Iuliia Budaleeva took the bronze medal.
Robbi Weldon of Thunder Bay, Ont., was seventh, while Margarita Gorbounova of Ottawa was eighth.
(With files from the Paralympic News Service)