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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Jessie Diggins, inspired by Body Issue, shares eating disorder battle

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Jessie Diggins hopes to open a conversation about body image after appearing in ESPN the Magazine‘s “Body Issue.” The Olympic gold medalist detailed her own experience with an eating disorder as a teenager in what she called “the most important blog I’ll ever write.”

“When I was 18-19 years old, I had everything in the world going for me, but I struggled with confidence and didn’t love myself,” Diggins, now 26, wrote on her website. “I suffered from an eating disorder, and eventually sought help at a treatment center, checking in for a summer program that saved my life. So when I was approached about the ESPN issue, I thought “is this REALLY something I want to do? Will it bring back old memories? Will I be ok with everyone seeing my body exactly as it is?”

Diggins is remembered for winning the first U.S. Olympic cross-country skiing title with Kikkan Randall in PyeongChang (Here comes Diggins!). In the cross-country world, she’s also reputed for her bubbly presence, spreading glitter across her face and sharing it with fellow skiers before races.

She wants to be associated with much more.

“I want to be known not for going through an eating disorder, but for helping other women and men speak up when they need help and not feel judged for needing a friend to talk it through with,” Diggins wrote. “Statistically speaking, at least 6% of you reading this right now are struggling with disordered eating in some way. So to those of you for whom it feels like the end of the world, I can say this: it can, and it does, get better. I know, because I lived it. It will take more courage than most anything else in your life, but you can get better. And it’s worth it.”

Years before becoming a medal-winning athlete, Diggins checked into The Emily Program, a national leader for eating disorder treatment.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but also the most important,” she wrote. “Because it saved my life, in every way that a life can be saved. I learned that I was struggling with this so much because I needed an outlet for stress, and that it was ok to feel a range of emotions – that I could survive feeling pressured, stressed, unhappy, sad, or angry as well as feeling happy-go-lucky.”

Diggins called posing for the Body Issue “a full-circle moment.” ESPN says the Body Issue celebrates every shape and size of athletes in artful fashion.

“[It’s] a chance for me to use a large stage to waltz right up to the microphone and share a message that I think is extremely important, and long overdue,” Diggins wrote. “We need to open up the conversation about body image, self confidence, and disordered eating. It should not be a shameful thing, or a taboo topic. It’s more prevalent than people think, and perhaps making help easier to find and less difficult to ask for could save some lives.”

MORE: Biathlon legend retires with four Olympic golds

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Darya Domracheva, triple Olympic gold medalist in Sochi, retires

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Darya Domracheva, a triple 2014 Olympic gold medalist and Belarus’ most decorated Olympian, has retired from biathlon at age 31.

Domracheva is leaving the sport because she could not continue in biathlon while raising daughter Xenia with husband Ole Einar Bjørndalen, the 13-time Olympic medalist biathlete for Norway.

“All the time after the season, I was trying to find a compromise which would allow me to raise a child and combine with a professional career at the same time,” Domracheva said, according to the International Biathlon Union (IBU). “Unfortunately I did not find an optimal solution which would allow me to combine those two important life parts. This decision is well weighted and very tough, but I finish my sports career.”

Domracheva was one of the biggest stars of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games as the only athlete to claim three individual gold medals, four years after being put on a Belarus postage stamp for earning an individual bronze. Domracheva could have competed for Russia, having been born in Minsk but raised in the remote western Siberia oil boom town of Nyagan, the birthplace of Maria Sharapova.

She became Belarus’ first female Olympic champion, saying she was “the hope of” Belarus, then was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, “Hero of Belarus.”

After winning her only World Cup overall title in 2015, Domracheva missed the 2015-16 campaign with glandular fever, then in April 2016 announced she and Bjørndalen were in a relationship and having a child.

Domracheva returned to take a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships, then entered PyeongChang ranked fifth in the world. Domracheva struggled early in PyeongChang with finishes of ninth, 37th and 27th before earning mass start silver and relay gold.

Her six career Olympic medals are two more than anybody else from Belarus, and her four golds are double anybody else’s total from her country.

Belarus has only competed independently since the 1994 Lillehammer Games, having previously been part of the Soviet Union. Its top athletes who competed under other flags included gymnasts Olga Korbut (six medals, four golds for the Soviets) and Vitaly Scherbo (six golds in 1992 for the Unified Team; four bronzes in 1996 for Belarus).

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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