(U.S. Paralympics press release)
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – The U.S. Paralympic Nordic skiing team closed out the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi in exciting fashion today as Oksana Masters (Louisville, Ky.) won bronze in the women’s 5-kilometer sit ski cross-country race at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Stadium.
Masters finished the race in 17:04.8 just behind Germany’s Andrea Eskau who won with a time of 16:08.6 and Ukraine’s Lyudmyla Pavlenko who was second with a time of 16:27.0.
It was the second medal for Masters and the third overall for the American squad. Masters won a silver medal in the 12km cross-country race earlier in the Games.
Today’s performance was the perfect end to the Games for Masters.
“I am in complete shock and amazement,” said Masters. “It has been an amazing first Paralympic Winter Games.”
The race featured 23 competitors so it was difficult to know exactly where the racers stood until the finish. This made the race particularly challenging for the competitors.
“It just goes to show that when you are out here in the middle of a race and you work hard enough and put your heart into it that you’re going to make anything you want happen,” noted Masters. “I sure as heck was fighting for every square inch of this course, so I am so lucky.”
The race also featured Tatyana McFadden (Clarksville, Md.), the only other American to medal in Nordic skiing at the Games. McFadden also raced well, finishing in seventh place with a time of 17:27.8.
For McFadden, who finished in the top 10 of each of her races here in Sochi, it was a fitting end to a great Games.
“It’s been a great experience and a great ride. I did really well my first Paralympic Winter Games, it’s been quite an experience,” said McFadden.
Today was a very busy day for the American squad as the team had 14 of its 16 athletes in competition today.
In the first race of the day Marine Corps veteran Omar Bermejo (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and John Oman (Barron, Wis.) finished up their first Paralympic Winter Games by finishing 29th and 32nd, respectively, in the 10km free standing cross-country race.
The American team also had two competitors in the second event of the day, the men’s 10km visually impaired cross-country race. Jake Adicoff (Sun Valley, Idaho) and his guide Reid Pletcher (Ketchum, Idaho) finished seventh with a time of 25:43.0. Navy veteran Kevin Burton (Boulder, Colo.) and his guide David Chamberlain (Wilton, Maine) finished in 15th place with a time of 28:25.8.
In the final race of the day, the men’s 10km sit cross-country race, six Americans competed.
Army veteran Andy Soule (San Antonio, Texas) once again was the top finisher for the U.S. placing ninth overall with a time of 32:56.1. He was followed closely by Lt Cmdr Dan Cnossen (Topeka, Kan.) who was 10th with a time of 33:02.0. Aaron Pike (Park Rapids, Minn.) was 14th with a time of 34:00.0. Retired Airman Sean Halsted (Spokane, Wash.) finished 16th and Army veteran Jeremy Wagner (Nanakuli, Hawaii) and Marine Corps veteran Travis Dodson (Deming, N.M.) were 22nd and 23rd, respectively.
Today’s events wrapped up a very successful Paralympic Winter Games for the U.S. Nordic skiing team. After sending six athletes to the Vancouver Winter Paralympics in 2010 and winning one medal, the program made huge strides in these Games. The team was comprised of 16 athletes, including eight current or former military members and the team won three medals.
On the women’s side, both Masters (Louisville, Ky.) and McFadden (Clarksville, Md.) found success in their first Winter Paralympic Games after already establishing themselves as elite level athletes in summer sports and shortly after taking up the sport of Nordic skiing.
Masters, who won a bronze medal in the 2012 London Paralympics in rowing, struck first for Team USA in Sochi. A day after finishing fourth in the 6km sitting biathlon and narrowly missing the podium, Masters executed a nearly flawless race in the 12km cross-country race to claim second place with a time of 39:16.0. Masters’ silver medal was the first U.S. women’s Paralympic medal in cross-country skiing in 20 years.
Fellow sit skier McFadden, who, like Masters, has only been competing in Nordic skiing for a year, continually displayed her athleticism throughout the Games. On March 12, McFadden broke through, winning a silver medal in the 1km cross country sprint in a time of 2:45.7, just 0.1 behind Norway’s Mariann Marthinsen who won gold in what was the most exciting race of the Games. For McFadden it marked the11th Paralympic medal of her career but her first ever Paralympic Winter Games medal. McFadden also has 10 Paralympic medals in track & field.
The men were led by Soule throughout these Games, who consistently found himself near the top of the leaderboard in every event he competed in. Soule recorded top five finishes in all but one of the six events he competed in in Sochi. In biathlon, Soule raced incredibly well and backed it up on the shooting range by going a perfect 50-for-50 across three races.