Oksana Masters won silver in the women’s sit-ski 12-kilometer cross-country race on Sunday, the second day of competition at the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.
The medal ends a 20-year-medal drought for U.S. women’s Paralympic cross-country skiing. According to a U.S. Paralympics press release, Michelle Drolet last claimed a medal for the U.S. in cross-country, taking bronze in the women’s visually impaired 5 k freestyle at the 1994 Lillehammer Paralympics. No woman has ever won silver — until Masters, a 24-year-old Ukrainian-born American Paralympic rower (originally) from Louisville, Kentucky. At the 2012 London Summer Paralympics, she earned the first U.S. medal in trunk-and-arms mixed double scull.
In a press release, Masters credited her rowing background for her early success in skiing after picking up the snow sport last season.
“I really have to thank my training from rowing because it prepared me well for skiing,” she said. “I am so happy right now.”
Masters narrowly missed the podium on Saturday in her first Paralympic competition, placing fourth in the women’s 6 k biathlon race.
“[Today was] a fabulous day for us again!” said U.S. Paralympics Nordic High Performance Director John Farra.
Wheelchair racing champion Tatyana McFadden, in her Winter Paralympic debut, placed fifth in Sunday’s sit-ski race. Her previous best at this distance was ninth at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Cup in Oberstdorf, Germany, earlier this season.
In an interview with FasterSkier before the race McFadden said she found the 12 k distance to be the hardest. “It takes takes more technique and technique plays in where you put your power in the snow,” she said. “I’m still learning and different snow conditions and the conditions are constantly changing.”
McFadden had difficulty with cornering in her distance race, falling three times. On her Facebook page, McFadden wrote, “Came in 5th place for my first winter games race in the 12k. Not too bad for falling 3x…need to get better at the turns. Exhausted but happy.”
Farra said McFadden’s technique was especially smooth on Sunday. “Great technique on the trails today,” he said. “A few crashes, but she is learning everyday … great day for her!”
In the men’s 15 k distance race, Andy Soule placed fifth and Sean Halsted finished ninth for the U.S.
Soule narrowly missed the podium in Saturday’s biathlon race, also placing fourth.
“Andy is a pro,” Farra said. “He knew what he needed to do … he has stuck with his plan and seems to be on his best form … maybe ever.
“It appears that some of our athletes are hitting their stride — peaking if you will — at the right moment, and that was always the plan,” he added. “I am happy to see it. Hoping we will see a few of the others hitting theirs before we leave Sochi.”
FasterSkier’s Para-Nordic contributor, Mark Vosburgh lives in Missoula, Mont., where he works as a Wildfire Scientist for the US Forest Service. In addition to being a chemical engineer, Mark is a cross-country and backcountry skier, bluegrass musician, and biker. He’s also a freelance writer for numerous publications including for 48 Degrees North and MakeitMissoula.com.