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.”
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