PYEONGCHANG, South Korea—The rain began to fall on Thursday afternoon, turning to snow after midnight. The morning of the Friday March 16th Biathlon, the venue looked like an ideal winter wonderland postcard sent from Korea. A white layer of fresh unspoiled snow concealed the filthy, water-saturated base that the skiers would be traversing.
In this Paralympic Games, Team USA’s two most dominate women, Oksana Masters (4 medals) and Kendall Gretsch (2 medals) joined a field of 15 female sit skiers to brave a cold, snow swirling start of the 12.5km Biathlon race. The women had a 5 X 2.5km course to ski and made four trips to the shooting range. Oksana Masters, LW12, shot a clean (no missed shots) race today and just missed the gold medal by 18.8 secs to Andrea Eskau LW11 from Germany. The conditions were merciless for all the competitors, Kendall Gretsch unfortunately finished in 8th.
“I cannot ask for anything more for myself at all. I’ve never cleaned a four-stage race ever for the five years I’ve been doing this […] I never considered myself as a biathlete and now I can’t believe that it’s my second time on the podium for biathlon racing at the Paralympic Games” said Oksana after winning the race.
In the men’s category, Navy shooter, Dan Cnossen from Topeka, KS did it again and claimed another silver medal adding to his growing collection of four medals at these Games. Three more competitors from the US entered the stadium with strong intentions, Andy Soule, LW12, two-time medalist in these Pyeongchang Games finishing 9th and Aaron Pike LW11.5 and four-time Paralympian in both Winter and Summer Games finishing 6th with a clean sweep of the targets and Ruslan Reiter in the standing group finishing 15th.
On Day 6 at the Jeongseon Alpine Center the weather was cold and dark but the venue was bustling with people out to watch the world’s top para snowboarding athletes from around the world compete in Banked Slalom. We had predicted that Team USA would take charge of the competition and we were right! It was raining medals for Team USA in every category and for both men and women.
The Women’s LL1 category started strong with 22 year old Brenna Huckaby winning her second Gold here in PyeongChang. She had already secured the number one spot in Snowboard Cross earlier in the week. Amy Purdy said “I ended up borrowing a board here in PyeongChang and it worked out well”, because she brought home a Bronze in Banked Slalom after her silver medal in Snowboard Cross. In the LL2 category for Women, Brittani Couri won her first medal at the Paralympics. She had been inspired to compete in para snowboarding after first witnessing it in Sochi in 2014.
For the men, Mike Minor was jubilant and won gold in the SB-UL category. Americans Noah Elliot and Mike Shultz dominated in the SB- LL1 men’s category and took Gold and Silver in spite of Mike Shultz not finishing his second run. The same tenacity was seen with Evan Strong successfully making it to the podium with a Silver medal after a disappointing experience in snowboard cross. It was an incredibly successful day for Team USA at Banked Slalom in PyeongChang.