Sestriere, Italy — It was a golden day for the U.S. Nordic Ski Team at the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy. Steve Cook (Salt Lake City, Utah) ended a 14-year gold medal drought, racing to first place in the men’s standing 5K. It was the first gold medal for the U.S. Nordic Ski team since the 1992 Paralympic Winter Games in Albertville, France and the fourth gold medal in the U.S. Paralympic cross-country team’s history.
Cook, a three-time Paralympian, skied with determination. He came out of the start with great speed and power, leading through the first kilometer. By the halfway point, he had slipped into third place, but he powered over the final hill and hammered it home, finishing with a time of 12:36.2 for the gold.
Following the race, Cook raised his arms in celebration and met his teammates with a broad smile on his face.
â€œWow this is amazing,â€ he said. â€œI really did not expect this. I have had a pretty difficult year and to get out there and win feels great. There aren’t words to describe how I feel right now. That was a pretty intense race and it feels so good to have finally skied well. It’s an awesome feeling.â€
Cook has been competing on the U.S. National Team for ten years. He won four silver medals at the 2002 Paralympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City and was the 2005 World Cup overall champion.
â€œIt is such an honor to even be competing here against these guys,â€ Cook said. â€œThe Paralympic Games are an amazing event. There are so many great athletes here, all pushing each other and encouraging each other. This takes a lot of pressure off of me for the rest of my races (10K, 20K and relay).â€
The silver medal in men’s standing 5K went to Siarhei Silchanka of Belarus (12:41.0) and the bronze went to Thomas Oelsner of Germany (12:45.3).
Also competing in the men’s 5K for for the U.S. squad were Dan Perkins (Syracuse, N.Y), who came in 26th (15:05.2) and Mike Crenshaw (Boulder, Colo.) who was 27th (15:26.9).
In the men’s 2.5K sitting race, Bob Balk (Long Beach, Calif.) was the top U.S. finisher, placing 11th with a time of 16:46.3. First-time Paralympians Chris Klebl (Heber City, Utah) and Greg Mallory (Portland, Ore.) were 23rd and 24th, respectively, with Klebl racing to a time of 18:15.5 and Mallory coming in at 18:20.7.
Balk was pleased with his finish and said, â€œI feel great out there. My skis were fast, I was prepared, and it all went really well.â€
On the women’s side, all three of the U.S. athletes finished in the top ten of their respective races. Kelly Underkofler (St. Paul, Minn.) took eighth place in the standing 5K with a time of 17:02.6. Having placed fourth in the biathlon a day earlier, Underkofler had a strong race against another very tough field.
â€œI feel like I did my best,â€ she said. â€œI am happy with the way that I skied today, there is just a lot of really great competition out there.â€
Candace Cable (Truckee, Calif.) was eighth in the sitting 2.5K with a time of 9:48.7. These are Cable’s tenth Paralympic Games, and, at 51 years old, she is a tough competitor. â€œI’m really happy with my finish,â€ she said. â€œI’m feeling great, and am looking forward to the rest of my races.â€
Monica Bascio (Evergreen, Colo.) was right behind Cable, finishing ninth in the sitting 2.5K with a time of 10:04.1.
Jon Kreamelmeyer (Frisco, Colo.), the head coach of the Nordic Team, was extremely proud of his team.
â€œIt has been a really good day for our team,â€ he said. â€œI am so proud and happy for Steve. He is a quality guy who has worked hard for a really long time and he definitely deserves this. There are a lot of components that go into his win. It kind of feels like a gold medal for the whole team. There’s the countless hours Steve has spent training, his determination to overcome his illness from earlier in the year, all of the techs who work hard on making our skis as fast as possible it was a fun day and it is great to see Steve so excited.â€
Competition continues Tuesday with short-distance biathlon. The middle distance cross-country races take place on Wednesday.
Results/Schedule of Events for U.S. Nordic Ski Team
Women’s 12.5K Standing (Kelly Underkofler, 4th place)
Women’s 10K Sitting (Monica Bascio, 6th place)
Men’s 5K Standing (Steve Cook, 1st place/Gold Medal; Dan Perkins, 26th place; Mike Crenshaw, 28th place)
Men’s 5K Sitting (Bob Balk, 11th place; Chris Klebl, 23rd place; Greg Mallory, 24th place)
Women’s 5K Standing (Kelly Underkofler, 8th place)
Women’s 2.5K Sitting (Candace Cable, 8th place; Monica Bascio, 9th place)
Men’s 7.5K (Dan Perkins)
Women’s 7.5K Standing (Kelly Underkofler)
Women’s 7.5K Sitting (Monica Bascio)
Men’s 10K Standing (Steve Cook, Mike Crenshaw, Dan Perkins)
Men’s 10K Sitting (Bob Balk, Chris Klebl, Greg Mallory)
Women’s 10K Standing (Kelly Underkofler)
Women’s 5K Sitting (Monica Bascio, Candace Cable)