Written By Brian Rank
SOCHI, Russia – USA sled hockey defeated Russia in a dramatic game to become Paralympic champions for the second year in a row. Alpine skiers made strong performances and cross-country skiers were able to enter two teams in the the new Paralympic relay event.
Team USA now has 17 medals comprised of two gold, seven silver and 8 bronze.
Below are recaps from the day’s events.
Team USA become the first to win consecutive paralympic sled hockey championships in a fierce game against Russia. Both teams maintained strong defense, allowing only a few goal attempts until the second frame when Josh Sweeney slapped the puck past Russian goaltender Vladimir Kamantcev at 9:28.
“I saw the defender, he had the puck and I just went after him,” Sweeney said. “I did a little fake because that’s what you want to do when you’re up against a goalie that good. It wasn’t anything that my other teammates couldn’t have done.”
The US was able to keep the Russians at bay for the rest of the game to win 1-0.
On day 8 of competition team USA came out skiing strong and many times seemed to just miss the podium. Heath Calhoun finished sixth in the giant slalom with just two-hundredths of a second off of the leader’s time.
“Overall its been a great trip,” Calhoun said. “I skied well here, it was my plan to be about as good as I’ve ever been here, and I feel like I at least came really close or accomplished my goals, so I’m happy. I keep talking about it, but it’s really tough competition in our field. The guys throw down, and I’m happy to be competing with them, happy to be here.”
Jasmin Bambur finished 17th in the race after a crash on the second run that he was able to overcome to finish the race. Both Chris Devlin-Young and Scott Meyer crashed and were not able to complete the event.
In men’s standing class, Ralph Green finished 16th, his best of the games. Joel Hunt and Tyler Carter finished 24th and 25th respectively.
James Stanton did not finish the event after crashing on his second run, though he came in 13th on his first. Jon Lujan crashed on his first run and had to be transported off by sled, he later wrote in Twitter that he had sustained new damage on his knee.
In visually impaired slalom, Mark Bathum and guide Cade Yamamoto did not finish after a crash on the first run.
Team USA entered a team in the 4×2.5 km mixed relay and a team in the 4×2.5 km open relay – two events new for the Paralympics – and made a strong effort. But the US coaches said the mere fact that they were able to field two teams in the race was what made the day a success.
“The most important thing today for us as a nation is that we got to field two full relay teams,” John Farra, director of high performance for the U.S. Paralympics Nordic skiing program, said. “Team relays are such a great way to bring the team together. We all did face paint today and really felt like Team USA, I am really proud of how the guys performed.”
The mixed relay teams must include two to four competitors and at least one woman.The US team was comprised of sit-skier Tatyana McFadden, who skied the first and third legs of the relay and visually impaired skier Jake Adicoff and guide Reid Pletcher who skied the second and fourth legs. The team finished sixth with an overall time of 29:06.7. Russia won the event with a time of 27:35.6.
“I personally love the team aspect, because you try just that much harder for the team,” Pletcher said. “It’s not just about you; it’s about doing anything you can and giving your last bit of energy for the team.”
In the open relay, teams can be from 2 to four competitors but do not require a female participant. The US mixed team was comprised of Kevin Burton, Omar Bermejo, Augusto Perez and Bryan Price. The team finished 9th with a time of 29:58.3. Russia won the race with a time of 24:22.8.