PYEONGCHANG, South Korea–it’s said that first days are always tough, not the case for the USA Team at the Winter Paralympics. The first day of PyeongChang Paralympics got underway with thrilling Downhill competitions at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre where the course looked to be in perfect high-speed-snow shape. And right out of the gate, in front of maximum capacity fans U.S. Team struck Gold and Bronze in the men’s and women’s sit ski classifications, respectively.
The Women’s Visually Impaired category got out of the start house with a blistering pace for Henrietta Farkasova winning gold for Slovakia followed by Millie Knight of the Great Britain securing the silver and the big story of the day was the bronze medalist who made history, Eleanor Sana became the first visually impaired woman to earn a Paralympic Alpine medal for Belgium. Team USA’s Danelle Umstead did not start the race.
In the Women’s Standing category, Team USA’s three competitors – Stephanie Jallen, Melanie Schwartz and Ally Kunkel gave all they had to the c, but placed out of the medals. Stephanie Jallen said she made a few mistakes today and didn’t do as well as she have hoped for.
Team USA’s first podium of the day came from four-time Paralympian and six-time medalist Laurie Stephens winning a Bronze medal, She ripped the course in a time of 1:35.80, just barely behind Germanys Anna Schaffelhuber and Momoka Muraoka from Japan.
The Men’s standing events followed the same format as the Women’s races, visually impaired, standing and ski skiers. First came the Visually Impaired athletes and Team USA had two starters, Kevin Burton, a veteran and switch-hitter coming over to Alpine racing from the U.S. Nordic team and Bathum Mark a three-time Paralympian and six-time medalist. The race course was tough knocking 22 competitors out of the chase today and unfortunately, Mark was one with a DNF, did not finish, while Kevin hung on for a 7th place finish.
Team USA’s Andrew Haraghey is making his Paralympic debut here at the PyeongChang Winter Paralympics as a LW 1 skier which is a classification that considers impairments that affect both legs. Andrew place 18th the standing men division, which had the largest field of the day with 29 athletes challenging the fast paced turns on this steep downhill course.
The final event of the day, the Men’s Sit Ski category had two Team USA athletes Stephen Lawler and Andrew Kurka, both two-time Paralympians, but, Andrew never got the opportunity to compete in his Sochi 2014 debut because of an injury during the first downhill training that sidelined him. Today he brought Team USA their Gold medal moment at this stunning Alpine park.
Over at Curling, the United States, who hoped to follow in the footsteps of the Men’s Olympic team by grabbing gold this Paralympic Games, failed to win their first match against host country Korea. They fell 7-3 after 7 rounds of play in a forfeit in the 8th round. However, the match was closer than the score shows. Team USA put two points on the board in the 6th frame of play and had two stones on the rings but Korea’s Seungwon Jung ended it with a double take-out, bouncing the USA’s stones. In Another match to note, Team Canada started strong wiping the floor with the Swiss team 8-0 in 6 rounds of curling action. Tomorrow, Team USA has a doubleheader at 9:00 AM Korea Time against Germany and at 7:30 PM against Sweden.
In the Alpensia Biathlon Center Kendall Gretsch was the first female athlete from team USA to win a gold medal at the games this morning in Nordic Skiing event at the women’s 6km, she is a LW11.5 classification since she was born with spina bifida.
“I’m just really excited to be here. It’s my first Paralympics, first race, so it’s just a great way to kick off the week and hopefully (there’s) more to come. It was an awesome race” she said.
Paralympian veteran Oksana Masters had a silver moment, she claimed the medal after being injured, a obstacle that almost prevented from polling the snowy course this morning.
“I was told I was not going to be able to race. I was basically fighting for a chance at the start line. I dug as deep as I could for my team and I’m happy to be standing on the podium next to Kendall.” she continued “It’s amazing to have team USA having not only its first female biathlon medal but the first female Paralympic gold, followed by a silver. It gives me goosebumps. It could not have been a better feeling”.
For Dan Cnossen the SEAL Team One veteran this was a hard fought battle to win a biathlon gold medal, in Sochi he place 14th this was a major comeback and a corner turn for the native from Kansas.
“In the race, I just wanted to see what I can do, not worrying about anything else. In the last Games that I did in Sochi, I let the TV screens and the announcer get to me and today I just focused on what I can do and nothing else matters. I crossed the line and I wasn’t even going to look at the board and I was pleasantly surprised at the end.
As for the rest of the biathlon athletes, Ruslan Reiter made his debut on the course in the Men’s 7.5km – Standing category coming in 16th place, he still has five more events schedule for next week including: Cross country Men’s 1.5km, 10km, and the 20km Free, all within the standing classification.