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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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Bernard Lagat commits to Olympic marathon trials, eyes age record

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Bernard Lagat, a 44-year-old, five-time Olympian, reportedly said he will race the Olympic marathon trials on Feb. 29 in a bid to break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner.

“I feel like I can still improve,” Lagat said, according to Runner’s World. “I’m going to give it my best.”

Lagat, a two-time Olympic 1500m medalist, moved to the marathon after becoming the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history at the Rio Games, placing fifth in the 5000m.

He clocked 2:17:20 in his 26.2-mile debut at the 2018 New York City Marathon. He lowered it to 2:12:10 at the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia on July 7 but did not previously commit to entering the trials.

If Lagat finishes in the top three at the marathon trials, he is in line to become the third-oldest U.S. Olympic track and field athlete in history. The oldest are race walker John Deni (49 years old in 1952) and hammer thrower Matt McGrath (48 years old in 1924), according to the OlyMADMen.

Lagat ranks outside the top 20 among U.S. marathoners in this Olympic cycle. The fastest are Galen Rupp (2:06:07), Leonard Korir (2:07:56, from Sunday’s Amsterdam Marathon) and Scott Fauble (2:09:09).

No American has competed in six Olympics in track and field. Lagat’s first two Olympic appearances were for Kenya.

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MORE: Olympic marathon moved from Tokyo to another Olympic host city

Natalie Geisenberger, Olympic luge champion, will not race this season

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For the first time in eight years, there will be a new World Cup women’s luge champion.

Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger — the seven-time defending champion and two-time defending Olympic singles gold medalist — announced that she isn’t sliding this season because she and her husband are expecting their first child in April.

“Our happiness is on the way,” Geisenberger said on her Facebook page.

Geisenberger plans to return next season and still has hopes to compete at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where she could match fellow German great Georg Hackl’s feat of winning three consecutive singles golds.

With Geisenberger not sliding this season, the top returning women from last year’s World Cup standings now are Julia Taubitz of Germany and Summer Britcher of the U.S. — second and third, respectively, in 2018-19.

Geisenberger has a luge record-tying four Olympic golds in all, being part of Germany’s victories in the team relays in Sochi in 2014 and Pyeongchang in 2018 as well.

Her 49 World Cup singles wins are another record, and she’s one of two sliders to win seven consecutive World Cup titles — Austria’s Markus Prock took the men’s championships each year from 1990-91 through 1996-97.

Geisenberger’s break from sliding only adds to how the World Cup standings — and the German roster — will look very different this season. Dajana Eitberger, who was fourth in last season’s World Cup standings, is also pregnant and expecting a baby in February. And Tatjana Huefner, who was sixth overall last season, has retired.

Huefner won five consecutive World Cup titles before Geisenberger took over and began her seven-year streak of championships. Geisenberger earned medals 11 times in 12 singles races last year — six golds, four silvers and one bronze.

“We are so happy for you even though we will miss you this season!” two-time Olympic singles gold medalist Felix Loch of Germany wrote in a message to Geisenberger on Instagram.

Geisenberger has been in the top three of the World Cup standings in 12 consecutive seasons. She was third in 2007-08, finished second in each of the next four seasons, and then began her title streak in 2012-13.

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MORE: U.S. luge star adds doubles after Olympic singles medal