World para-nordic ski champion Mark Arendz rehearsing for Pyeongchang

Canada in full prep for 2018 Paralympic Games

Mark Arendz had just landed in Pyeongchang, South Korea, when Facebook reminded him of the third anniversary of his biathlon silver medal at the 2014 Paralympics.

It was a serendipitous intersection of past and future for the recently crowned world champion in para-nordic skiing.

Arendz and a large portion of Canada’s team are currently in South Korea for World Cups doubling as test events for the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, which open exactly one year from Thursday.

“It’s all coming full circle a little bit,” Arendz said from Pyeongchang. “I’m at the next Paralympic venue. The excitement is there.”

The 27-year-old from Charlottetown is coming off a five-medal haul, including two gold, in February’s world para-nordic championships in Finsterau, Germany.

Arendz, whose left arm is amputated above the elbow because of a childhood farming accident, won a pair of biathlon races and was second in another.

He also added bronze in cross-country skiing and helped the relay team to another bronze.

“I had six races in nine days there, so that will be very similar to what the Games will be,” Arendz said. “A very good test for what is coming up in a year. That performance on demand is crucial.

“Biathlon is still my number one focus. That’s where most of my attention and energy will go towards, my three biathlon races in Korea next year.”

Arendz, who lives and trains in Canmore, Alta., starts racing Friday at the Alpensia Biathlon and Cross-Country Ski Centre.

Canada was 4-3 Wednesday at the world wheelchair curling championship at the Gangneung Curling Centre.

The para-alpine ski team, led by 19-year-old Paralympic champion Mac Marcoux of Haviland Bay, Ont., and the para-snowboarders also start competing Friday at the Yongpyong and Jeongseon alpine centres.

Canada’s sledge hockey team gets to Pyeongchang in April for a test event.

Canada finished third in gold medals with seven and fourth in total medals with 16 at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. It was a drop from 19 medals, including 10 gold, won in 2010.

Host Russia dominated 2014 with a total of 80 medals followed by Ukraine with 25 and the United States with 18.

Russia’s participation in the 2018 Paralympics is in question, however, as the International Paralympic Committee banned that country’s athletes from Rio last year. The IPC has yet to lift the ban on the Russian Paralympic Committee.

The Canadian Paralympic Committee isn’t declaring its goal for 2018 until this winter sport season concludes and results are analyzed.

Own The Podium’s most recent statistics rank Canada seventh among countries in World Cup medals won in 2016-17 with a total of 21, including six gold. Ukraine leads with 95 medals, including 37 gold.

Of the $65 million OTP has directed towards winter sport since 2014, about $8.5 million has gone to Paralympians.

A Paralympic medal has become much harder for Canadians to win compared to early in the movement, when fewer countries and fewer athletes were competing.

“It’s extremely difficult,” Canadian team chef de mission Todd Nicholson said.

“The level of professionalism and the quality of the athletes that Canada and the other nations are putting towards the Games are that much more dedicated and more elite than we’ve ever seen.”

The former sledge hockey player intends to talk to every Canadian athlete returning from Pyeongchang’s test events about what they need to be at their best next year.

“It’s perfect because it gives our athletes the opportunity to get over and see first-hand what it is they’re going to be doing there next year,” Nicholson said.

Arendz will bring home images of the nordic venue in his head and use them to mentally rehearse his races over the next year.

“I try not to focus on visualizing the trails themselves just in case they get changed,” he explained. “The finishing area will be very similar. That’s definitely something that won’t change. The shooting range won’t change.

“It’s a very flat, open approach to the range, which is kind of unique. I haven’t seen many stadiums that do that. There will be an element of how do I approach this finishing strait into the range to best prepare myself to shoot? That’s something I’ll definitely be playing with and figuring out over the next week.”

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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