By Gary Anderson

January 7 - Paralympic champion Olena Iurkovska will lead the Ukraine gold medal hunt in Vuokatti this week ©Bongarts/Getty ImagesVuokatti in Finland will play host to the second International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Nordic Skiing World Cup of the season as Russia looks to build on its fine start in Canmore, Canada, last month but will face stiff competition from neighbours the Ukraine.

The Russians almost completed a clean-sweep of gold medals at the Canmore Nordic Centre in December, claiming top spot on the podium on 30 occasions.

However, many of the Ukraine's top Nordic skiers did not travel across the Atlantic last time out but will be in Vuokatti this week as athletes continue the build up to March's Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi.

Five-time Paralympic champion Olena Iurkovska is one of the Ukrainians making her first World Cup appearance of the season in Vuokatti and will be sure to provide a stiff test for Norway's Mariann Marthinsen - one of only a few non-Russian winners in Canmore, taking the top spot in the women's sitting sprint, middle and long distance events - in the cross-country skiing events.

Iuliia Batenkova is another Ukrainian who will be among the favourites to top the podium this week but will be battling against some top performers in the women's short course standing biathlon event, which is shaping up to be one of the stand out events of the week.

World champion Batenkova, who has five Paralympic silver medals to her name, will be looking to repeat her performance from last year's World Championships in Sollefteå, Sweden, where she finished ahead of Russian rival Anna Milenina, while compatriot and middle distance biathlon world champion Iryna Bui and Japan's Paralympic silver medallist Shoko Oto will also be looking to make the podium.

In the women's visually impaired events, Russia's Mikhalina Lysova and Elena Remizova are expected to once again be the athletes to beat after they dominated the gold medal positions in Canmore.

Iuliia Batenkova is another of the Ukrainian athletes expected to be a force at the IPC Nordic Skiing World Cup in Vuokatti this week ©Getty ImagesIuliia Batenkova is another of the Ukrainian athletes expected to be a force at the IPC Nordic Skiing World Cup in Vuokatti this week ©Getty Images

On the men's side, Ukrainian biathlon middle distance world champion Ihor Reptyukh is expected to challenge reigning world champion Mark Arendz in the short course standing biathlon event, after the Canadian took the gold on home soil last month.

Meanwhile, home fans will be looking to Ilkka Tuomisto as a possible gold medal hope in the men's cross-country middle distance classic standing competition but he will have his work cut out against reigning world champion Vladislav Lekomtcev of Russia.

The course in Vuokatti uses artificial snow and chief of competition at this week's event, which is due to start tomorrow and runs until Monday (January 13), Jyri Pelkonen says the course is in good condition for the event.

"We are using the first snow track for the competitions," he said.

"We hope for a bit of snowfall or even rain for preparing the tracks as it would make the surface harder.

"In general everything is as it should be at this point, and we have nothing to worry about.

"Also temperatures seem to be pleasant all days too so cold weather shouldn't be an issue."

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