Paralympics: Kendall Gretsch wins biathlon gold after triathlon gold; Ukraine sweeps

CHINA-ZHANGJIAKOU-WINTER PARALYMPICS-PARA CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING -WOMEN'S LONG DISTANCE SITTING(CN)
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Kendall Gretsch won a Paralympic biathlon gold medal in China on Tuesday, just over six months after winning a Paralympic triathlon gold medal in Tokyo.

Gretsch, 29, won the 10km sitting biathlon event, edging countrywoman Oksana Masters by 8.7 seconds despite having one shooting miss to Masters’ none over 20 shots.

Four years ago, Gretsch won the first U.S. gold of the PyeongChang Paralympics, marking the first U.S. women’s biathlon medal of any color at the Olympics or Paralympics. She later added a cross-country skiing title at those Games, two years after taking up Nordic skiing.

In her first event at this year’s Games, she took bronze while Masters won the first U.S. gold last Saturday.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, it would not include Gretsch’s classification. Still wanting to compete at a Games, she became a biathlete and cross-country skier. Gretsch’s triathlon classification was added for the Tokyo Games.

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Masters now has three medals in three Nordic skiing races at the Paralympics, with the opportunity for four more medals to break two major U.S. records.

Masters owns 13 career Paralympic medals among four sports between the Summer and Winter Games. Masters has gone a perfect 30 for 30 in shooting in her two biathlon races, in addition to a cross-country skiing silver medal.

Like Gretsch, Masters won gold at the Summer Games six months ago. Two in cycling.

It’s her winter medals — now 10 — that are the focus for history this week.

Masters is halfway to the record for most medals for an American at a single Winter Paralympics AND halfway to matching the most career Winter Paralympic medals in U.S. history. Gretsch can also get to a record-tying six medals at these Games if she earns a medal in her last three individual events, plus on a relay.

If Masters wins a medal in all of her individual remaining biathlon and cross-country events the rest of this week, plus a cross-country relay, she will hold both records by herself.

Fellow Nordic skier Dan Cnossen broke the U.S. record for medals at a single Winter Paralympics four years ago, taking six between biathlon and cross-country skiing. Masters won five in 2018, competing weeks after suffering a broken elbow.

The career U.S. medals record is shared by Alpine skiers Sarah Billmeier and Sarah Will, who each competed in four Paralympics from 1992-2002 and earned 13 medals out of a possible 16. Alpine skiing has four events per classification at the Games.

Gretsch, Masters and Cnossen have more medal opportunities because they compete in two sports. Alpine skiing is the only current Winter Paralympic sport other than biathlon and cross-country skiing with more than two medal events per classification.

The overall record for most Winter Paralympic medals is held by Norwegian Ragnhild Myklebust, who from 1988-2002 earned 27 medals (22 gold) across cross-country skiing, biathlon and ice sledge speed racing, which is no longer on the program.

Later Tuesday, Ukraine posted its second and third biathlon medals sweeps of the Games.

“I am happy, but you know the situation in Ukraine,” bronze medalist Dmytro Suiarko said, according to the Olympic Information Service. “Very hard concentration is needed in biathlon, and I missed twice [shooting] because yesterday my house where I live, it was bombed and destroyed.”

Ukraine, which ranked in the top four in total medals at each of the last four Winter Paralympics, ranks second at these Games with 17 medals, trailing China, which has 27 medals. Before these Games, China had one Winter Paralympic medal in history versus 1,229 Summer Paralympic medals.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included a quote from Masters calling Gretsch the “queen of biathlon.” Masters was referring to bronze medalist Anja Wicker of Germany.

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