It’s late January and we’re deep into the race season. As the Olympics and Paralympics draw nearer, we’ve simultaneously just wrapped up the Tour de Ski, the U.S. Cross Country Championships, and another wave of SuperTour races. Never a dull moment in the racing world, the Para World Championships are currently well underway, running January 13-23rd in Lillehammer, Norway.
Normally occurring on odd years, the World Championships were postponed from last February due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, the event was called the Lillehammer 2021 World Para Snow Sports Championships. It was a hallmark event, as it is the first time that all snow sports have competed together in one location over the same dates.
Led by well-decorated veterans like Oksana Masters, Kendall Gretsch, and Dan Cnossen, the U.S. Para Nordic Team has put together a string of outstanding results at World thus far. Events have ranged from biathlon springs to cross country distance races, with athletes competing – and cleaning up – across all disciplines and distances.
Kicking off the series of events, Sun Valley’s Jake Adicoff took home his career first World Championship medal by winning the men’s visually impaired 10-kilometer middle distance race.
“It feels great,” Adicoff said of his performance, according to the Team USA Press Release. “Lillehammer has been skiing really well so far, I’ve been having a lot of fun here. It feels great to go and get that first podium, and hopefully we can go out and get some more here.”
Adicoff retired in 2018 after earning a silver medal in the 10k and taking 4th in the sprint, however, he is making his return with a bang in this 2021/22 season.
Building momentum throughout the first day, 19-year-old Sydney Peterson earned a silver medal in the women’s standing middle distance race, with Gretsch earning the second gold medal for team USA in the women’s sitting 7.5k middle distance event. That’s three medals, two gold and one silver, on the first day of racing, along with an additional two athletes, Cnossen and Dani Aravich, earning top-10 finishes.
Joining the team in Lillehammer late after testing positive for COVID-19 on New Year’s Eve, Masters made a smooth return to competition, taking second place in her first race at Worlds, the sitting biathlon sprint on January 15th. The next day, the American women took first and third in the sitting biathlon middle distance race, with Gretsch earning her second gold medal of the week and Masters adding an 18th World Championship medal to her ever-expanding collection.
On point, a perfect shooting performance contributed to Gretsch’s gold, while Masters skied her way out of a significant deficit. Experiencing challenges on the range, Master’s racked up seven penalties, but made up her shooting with her skiing. In the men’s sitting race, Master’s partner, Aaron Pike, skied his way into the Top-10, a rank he has achieved in each of his World Cup races this season, leaving him primed for a medal.
Two days later on the 18th, Masters and Gretch again took the spotlight, going 1-2 in the women’s sitting 15k long distance cross-country race. Now reaching 19 total, this marked Masters’ 10th career World Championship gold medal.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” Masters said in the Team USA press release that day. “It feels like yesterday where I was that new athlete, never thinking that I would be a world championship athlete. So, to have 10 now … is incredible and it’s a testament to our team’s hard work. It’s not just me, it’s the whole team.”
Already an historic day for the U.S., Peterson and Adicoff continued the medal streak in the long-distance cross country races, with each athlete earning a bronze medal in the standing and visually impaired divisions, respectively. Four Americans competed that day, and four medals were won. How’s that for success?
As the final days of World Championship racing kicked off, Pike’s consistency paid off with a silver medal in the men’s sitting individual biathlon event. Missing just one target, matching the best result of the event, Pike finished 24 seconds back on the winner, Pavlo Bal of the Ukraine. This result is both a World Championship and overall World Cup career best for Pike, who is an accomplished wheelchair racer during the summer season.
“It was a tough day to be shooting out there, everybody’s missing so I was happy to come away with just missing one shot,” said Pike in today’s recap. “This is probably the windiest race we’ve had in three years. Every chance you get to put a bib on and race in a biathlon race is experience.”
Racing in the women’s sitting individual biathlon, Gretsch and Masters continued to dominate the field, taking first and third, respectively, to keep their medal streak alive and well.
Again performing well on the range, Gretsch missed just one target in four rounds of shooting and skied the second fastest time on course for a finish time of 52:25.0. While Masters skied the fastest time of day, she again faced challenges in her shooting, incurring five penalties, leaving her 3:00.7 behind Gretsch in the final results. In the women’s standing class, Aravich earned another top-10 finish in eighth.
After a day of rest, the Para athletes have two final days of racing in Lillehammer on the 22nd and 23rd, which feature a sprint for the standing and visually impaired categories on Saturday and a Mixed Relay on Sunday. Based on the week’s results, it’s clear that they are primed for another medal run in the upcoming 2022 Beijing Paralympic Games, which begin March 4th.
Livestreams of past and upcoming events, along with links to results can be found on the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Facebook page, or you can check out the remainder of snowsport events happening this week in Lillehammer by following along here.
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