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Paralympic gold medalists headline U.S. team at World Para Nordic Skiing Championships

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The 2019 World Para Nordic Skiing Championships began yesterday in Prince George, Canada. The 10-day competition features 38 medal events (20 in cross-country skiing and 18 in biathlon) across three classification categories (sitting, standing, and visually impaired).

The U.S. team is headlined by 2018 Paralympic gold medalists Dan Cnossen, Kendall Gretsch, and Oksana Masters. Masters and Gretsch kicked off their competition in Prince George with a 1-2 finish in the women’s biathlon middle distance event.

Masters, 29, enters the World Championships as the defending world champion in four events. Her success two years ago at the 2017 World Championships initially made her a gold medal favorite in multiple events heading into the PyeongChang Paralympics, but less than a month before the Games, she slipped on ice and dislocated her right elbow. Masters still managed to make it to PyeongChang, and she even claimed two medals (silver and bronze) in her first two events in South Korea, but in her third event – the 10-kilometer biathlon – she fell and reinjured her elbow, causing her to stop mid-race.

“I was told that it might be my last race of the Games,” Masters said in a phone interview last week. But 24 hours later, with the help of team doctors, she was back on the cross-country course for the sprint. Despite dealing with immense pain, she powered through to win her first Paralympic gold medal. She left PyeongChang with five medals, bringing her career total to eight.

Since competing in PyeongChang, Masters has had surgery on her elbow twice: once at the end of March, and then again at the end of the summer. She says she hopes to compete in all six events in Prince George, but is taking it one day at a time based on how her elbow feels.

Away from the snow, both Masters and Gretsch also compete in summer sports. Masters, who made her Paralympic debut as a rower in 2012 before switching to cycling for 2016, plans to return her focus to cycling at the end of this winter season. Gretsch, a native of Illinois, competes in triathlon. Her classification was not offered at the 2016 Rio Games, but she will have the opportunity to compete in Tokyo.

Cnossen, a Navy SEAL veteran and purple heart recipient, had a stellar showing at the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics, winning six medals (one gold, four silver, and one bronze). Just months after his six-medal performance, he graduated with second master’s degree (this one in theological studies from Harvard’s Divinity School).

Cnossen says he’s been able to dedicate more time to training this season now that he’s no longer in school. He still calls Massachusetts home, but frequently travels to Craftsbury, Vermont, to complete his cross-country and biathlon-specific training. That said, the 38-year-old notes that he is trying to look at his success in PyeongChang separately from his expectations for these World Championships. “I know that I have put in more work this year than I did last year, but that doesn’t mean anything because sometimes you can put in too much work,” he said in a phone interview last week. “I’ll take it one race at the time and focus on the task at hand.”

The 2019 World Para Nordic Championships will be streamed live on OlympicChannel.com. The upcoming streaming schedule can be found here.

 

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USOPC proposes more athletes on board as part of overhaul

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DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is proposing an increase in athlete representation on its board and a recasting of its mission statement to include the job of promoting athletes’ well-being.

These changes are part of a proposal, released Monday, to rewrite the USOPC bylaws.

The rewrite comes 20 days after federal lawmakers — looking for a shake-up in the wake of the sex-abuse scandal that has tainted the U.S. Olympic movement — proposed their own drastic overhaul of the law governing the USOPC.

The USOPC portrayed its proposals as merely a first step, and, indeed, the measures lack many of Congress’ more aggressive proposals.

But they would heed athletes’ calls for more representation, by increasing their makeup on the board from 20% to 33%.

They would also change the mission statement to read: “empower Team USA athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence and well-being,” where previously the well-being part was not mentioned.

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Why a 62-year-old played at the world badminton championships

Mathew Fogarty
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Mathew Fogarty said badminton’s European elite made fun of him for playing professionally at age 59. That was three years ago. Fogarty still competes at the sport’s highest level, taking part in the world championships that began Monday in Basel, Switzerland.

Fogarty, who turns 63 on Oct. 30, is older than any U.S. Olympian in any sport since the St. Louis 1904 Games, according to the OlyMADMen.

“I play because I can, and I’m a doctor, and I think sports is a really important part of people’s health and fitness,” said Fogarty, who has played competitively since age 7, whose full-time job is a psychoanalyst and who is based in the Los Angeles area. “I’ll stop badminton when I can no longer qualify. There’s still opportunity, and I love the sport. I’m going to continue to do the best I can.”

He lost in the first round of mixed doubles at worlds on Monday. Fogarty and partner Isabel Zhong, a 27-year-old with an IMBD profile, saw their world championships end in 23 minutes, a 21-9, 21-10 loss to a Ukrainian pair.

That was more competitive than Fogarty’s last two worlds appearances — a 21-6, 21-4 loss with Zhong in 2018 and a 21-2, 21-4 loss with another partner in 2017. Fogarty’s only international match wins in the last two years came via walkover or the one time his singles opponent retired after three points, according to his World Badminton Federation profile. He won an international tournament as recently as 2011 and said his career-high mixed doubles world ranking was 32.

He and Zhong paired because they were part of the same Manhattan Beach Badminton Club, and she wanted to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games, Fogarty said. Zhong did not respond to an interview request.

“I told her I didn’t know if we could do it, but we could try,” Fogarty said. “It’s extremely remote [chances] … slim to nil.”

The top mixed doubles team from the North and South American region is in line to qualify for the Olympics. The leaders in qualifying so far are Canadians ranked 19th in the world. Fogarty and Zhong, though they are the only U.S. mixed doubles team at worlds, are 67th in the world in Olympic qualifying and third among Americans.

The U.S. has never earned an Olympic medal in badminton, which debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Mixed doubles was added starting at Atlanta 1996, but the U.S. has put just one mixed team into an Olympics, getting swept out of pool play in Rio.

Fogarty, who has never played at the Olympics, is able to play at worlds for a few reasons: he can fund his way to international events to accumulate ranking points; the U.S. is historically weak and has a lack of players with professional ambitions; mixed doubles is the least common of the Olympic disciplines.

“Matt takes it seriously,” said Dean Schoppe, a fellow 62-year-old who has known and played with Fogarty for nearly a half-century. Schoppe recently retired from pro badminton himself. “Matt still approaches the matches with the actual idea of winning,”

Schoppe called Fogarty the best American junior player of his generation in the late 1970s.

“Most badminton players retire at about 26 or 27 with their first catastrophic injury, which is usually a torn Achilles,” he said. “There are people who are born [to play], you see it in every sport. Magic Johnson, they have the peripheral vision. They have the balance. They have all the intangibles that other people have to try to learn and can’t.

“He has the gift. He can look at you peripherally and see that you’re leaning. … Fogarty can hold the serve and turn his shoulders and do crap that makes you fall over, and that infuriates.”

Mathew Fogarty
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Fogarty took breaks from the sport for medical school in the 1980s and ’90s. He returned in the late 1990s and kept playing deep into his 40s, 50s and now 60s in part, he said, to challenge corruption within the sport.

Fogarty had legal battles with USA Badminton. He said that past officials broke up his Olympic hopeful partnership with a teenager in men’s doubles to push others toward the 2000 Sydney Games.

“The last thing they wanted was a 42-year-old with an 18-year-old trying to make the Olympics,” Schoppe said.

USA Badminton recently had mass resignations among its board and top officials amid reports of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee threatening decertification.

USA Badminton’s new interim CEO, 1992 and 1996 Olympian Linda French, declined comment on Fogarty’s past issues with the organization because she was not formally involved at the time.

“We’re hopeful to move forward in a positive manner and wish all our athletes continued success,” French said.

Fogarty does not know how much longer he will travel the world, or even the U.S., to play competitively. A 43-year-old told him at a recent event that Fogarty was his inspiration to keep playing.

“The nature of sports is you can’t predict what it’s going to be,” Fogarty said.

Schoppe dismissed a question of whether it’s easier to play badminton at such a ripe age than other physically demanding sports.

“Imagine pulling out James Worthy and say, OK, James you are now starting for Golden State and you’re playing the Lakers tomorrow,” Schoppe said. “You cannot be old in badminton and do well in badminton. It’s nothing like baseball.

“We were the anomaly of anomalies to have success in our 40s. Nobody does.”

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