Oksana Masters wins first Paralympic gold after being told to sit out

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Oksana Masters was told this day would not happen. They told her two weeks ago, when she dislocated her right elbow in Montana. They told her yesterday, when she fell in a race, reinjured her arm and failed to finish.

Yet there was Masters, raising that arm, covered nearly from shoulder to wrist in a black brace, at the finish line of the 1.1km sitting cross-country skiing sprint at the PyeongChang Paralympics on Wednesday.

Masters, who previously earned five combined silver and bronze medals among three sports between the Summer and Winter Paralympics, finally earned her first gold.

“I did not believe this would happen,” she told Lewis Johnson on NBCSN. “I just knew that I wasn’t going to let yesterday be my last race and that’s how I end my Paralympic Games.”

Masters and Andy Soule notched an American sweep of the sitting sprint gold medals Wednesday. The U.S remained atop the medal standings through 53 of 80 events. The Americans have 21 total medals and eight golds, their most in either category since hosting the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

Masters, 28, grabbed her first gold in her 12th career Paralympic event at her fourth Games. She rowed at London 2012, cycled at Rio 2016 and competed in biathlon and cross-country skiing at Sochi 2014 and in three previous events in PyeongChang.

“Internally, I kind of knew that I have had four years into this, and I wasn’t going to let an elbow take that away from me,” Masters said, according to PyeongChang 2018.

Masters, skiing with what she called “excruciating” pain, held off German and Russian skiers by 2.1 and 3.7 seconds, respectively, in the four-minute final.

Masters has become one of the world’s most versatile athletes after being born in Ukraine with defects believed to be caused by the Chernobyl disaster and bouncing from orphanage to orphanage for seven years before being adopted by a single mother in New York.

“I cannot wait to put it around my mom’s neck,” she said of the gold medal. “I told her the first gold, it’s hers.”

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MORE: PyeongChang Paralympics TV, streaming schedule

David Taylor will not defend wrestling world title

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David Taylor waited five years to get his chance at the world championships. The wait will also be a little longer than expected to defend his world title.

Taylor suffered a knee injury in a May 6 match and underwent surgery, according to his social media. He was to face Pat Downey in two weeks for the U.S.’ spot at 86kg at September’s world championships, but that’s not happening now.

“The nature of competing as a professional athlete is a delicate one,” was posted on Taylor’s accounts. “One year, you find yourself winning the tilte of the 86 kg World Champion and being voted best pound for pound wrestler on earth. In the blink of an eye, you lose yourself in thought over the noisy lull of the MRI machine, hoping that the pain in your knee isn’t what you fear most.”

Taylor, 28, was one of three U.S. men to earn maiden world titles last October in Budapest, along with fellow former NCAA standouts J’den Cox and Kyle Dake.

Taylor upset Iran’s Olympic and world champion Hassan Yazdani in his first match at worlds. He suffered a knee injury in his second match and said he was kicked in the face in the semifinals. He then dumped Turkey’s top-seeded Fatih Erdin in the final, scoring a two-point takedown in the first 10 seconds and getting a 12-2 tech fall.

“To be able to earn it the way that I earned it, there’s no easy way,” Taylor said. “I wrestled every single best guy every single round.”

Taylor became the oldest first-time Olympic or world champion for USA Wrestling since 2006. He had finished second or third at trials for the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 World teams and the 2016 Olympic team. He is one of four men to win the NCAA Wrestler of the Year award multiple times, doing so in 2012 and 2014 for Penn State.

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Sam Girard, Olympic short track champion, surprisingly retires at age 22

Sam Girard
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Sam Girard, who avoided a three-skater pileup to win the PyeongChang Olympic 1000m, retired from short track speed skating at age 22, saying he lost the desire to compete.

“I leave my sport satisfied with what I have accomplished,” Girard said in a press release. “This decision was very well thought through. I am at peace with the choice that I’ve made and am ready to move onto the next step.”

Girard and girlfriend and fellow Olympic skater Kasandra Bradette announced their careers end together in a tearful French-language press conference in Quebec on Friday.

Girard detailed the decision in a letter, the sacrifices made to pursue skating. Notably, moving from his hometown of Ferland-et-Boilleau, population 600, to Montreal in 2012. His hobbies had been of the outdoor variety, but he now had to drive an hour and a half from the training center just to go fishing.

In PyeongChang, Girard led for most of the 1000m final, which meant he avoided chaos behind him on the penultimate lap of the nine-lap race. Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor‘s inside pass took out South Koreans Lim Hyo-Jun and Seo Yi-Ra, leaving just Girard and American John-Henry Krueger.

Girard maintained his lead, crossing .214 in front of Krueger to claim the title. He also finished fourth in the 500m and 1500m and earned bronze in the relay.

“My first Olympics, won a gold medal, can’t ask for more,” he said afterward.

Though Girard was already accomplished — earning individual silver medals at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds — he came to PyeongChang as the heir apparent to Charles Hamelin, a roommate on the World Cup circuit whom Girard likened to a big brother. Girard earned another world silver medal this past season.

Hamelin, after taking individual gold in 2010 and 2014, left PyeongChang without an individual medal in what many expected to be his last Olympics. However, he went back on a retirement vow and continued to skate through the 2018-19 season.

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MORE: J.R. Celski explains decision to retire