The Para World Championships wrapped up in Lillehammer, Norway on Sunday January 23rd, with a mixed open relay event bringing athletes from across genders and race categories together into one thrilling capstone event.
Rewinding to where our previous coverage left off, Saturday’s schedule featured the final individual races of the Championships, a classic spring for standing athletes, and a cross country sprint for sprint skiers. As in able-bodied fields, a sprint involves a qualification round, followed by a semifinal and grand finale to decide the medalists. The number of athletes who make the semifinal varies based on category.
Highlighting the day, Oksana Masters took gold in the women’s sitting race, her sixth medal of the Championships (two of each color) and career 11th World Championship medal. This title was not certain until the final meters of the race, where Masters put in a final surge to overtake an athlete from Belarus just before the line.
“It feels incredible,” Masters said in the Team USA press release. “It doesn’t feel that long ago that I was barely making finals in sprint, or I couldn’t finish a sprint without falling or breaking a pole. To be able to have a third consecutive world championship title in this event is just incredible.”
Another medal favorite based on her performances through the week, Kendall Gretsch also raced in the sitting finale, however, a late crash put her out of reach of the podium and she ended the day in fifth.
On the men’s side, Aaron Pike led the American men in the sitting sprint, placing well inside the top-12 to qualify for the semifinals. In his semi, Pike finished fifth and did not advance to the finale. Meanwhile, Dan Cnossen was 16th in qualification and did not advance to the rounds.
In the women’s standing races, newcomer to the team Sydney Peterson earned her second silver medal of the week, in addition to a third place medal. Perhaps still gaining experience, Peterson felt her first two rounds of racing were not smooth, though it came together in the final round.
“I had some mishaps the first two races this morning so I’m glad that things worked out for the finals,” said Peterson to Team USA. “I’m pretty excited that was a really fun race. It will be fun to continue racing.”
A second standing athlete, Dani Aravich, was just shy of the top-eight in qualification, meaning she was unable to advance to the semifinal for her class.
Also on a medal streak, visually impaired athlete Jake Adicoff and his guide Sam Wood earned a silver medal in the classic sprint, allowing them to make a clean sweep of gold, silver, and bronze in the three events they contested this week.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” said Adicoff. “This is an improvement from the classic sprint in Canmore. We’re pretty happy with the result and it’s super fun racing out there. [We’re taking away] a little bit of confidence and then to be off that gold medal for two races now that’s what we’re looking for – gold in Beijing.”
On Sunday, the American squad fielded two relay teams in the mixed-gender, mixed-class 10-kilometer event. Given the variations in time based on sitting, standing, and subcategories within those groups, this makes for an interesting equation. Simultaneously, what better a way to highlight the diversity, talent, and teamwork seen across nations?
According to the daily Team USA press release, “relays were structured so that each athlete was assigned points based on their classification and gender, and the sum of each team’s total points could not exceed 335 for the mixed relay and 375 for the open relay. From there, it was head-to-head racing, and factored times did not come into play.”
Masters led an all-women’s team for the U.S., passing off to Peterson for the second leg, with Grestch racing third, and Aravich as anchor. Each of the women put together strong performances to keep their team within the top four, finishing in a cumulative time of 31:41.5.
“We didn’t know until yesterday how we were going to do the relays, so when our coaches told us it was all women, we were really excited,” Aravich explained in the press release. “When we looked at the points and how it was stacked up, we probably shot ourselves in the foot a bit because we didn’t come close to maximizing the points we could have had in the race. We set our expectations to have fun and end this trip on a high note, which we did.”
On the men’s side, Adicoff and Wood raced both the second and final leg of the relay, with Pike leading the team for the first leg and Cnossen racing third. Following a strong opener from Pike, Adicoff and Wood brought the men into second place, though they slipped back in the results over the next two. They finished the race in fifth overall, however, they were issued a 30-second time penalty for one of their exchanges, which bumped them down to sixth.
The next races on the Para World Cup calendar begin next weekend, running January 27th – February 1st in Östersund, Sweden. The 2022 Paralympic team will be named following these events on February 1st, leaving the team just over a month to prepare for the Games in Beijing, which kick off on March 4th.
More information, including press releases, livestreams of past events, and links to results can be found on the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Facebook page. You can also follow the team on Instagram, or at TeamUSA.org/USParaNordicSkiing.
Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646