Paralympics: Oksana Masters, Brenna Huckaby take gold; Masters one shy of records

Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics - Day 7
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Nordic skier Oksana Masters and snowboarder Brenna Huckaby gave the U.S. its first double-gold day of the Paralympics, with Masters moving one medal shy for the most career Winter Paralympic medals in American history.

Masters had her first and only shooting miss of the Games (50 total shots in three events), yet still edged countrywoman and silver medalist Kendall Gretsch by 5.8 seconds in a 12.5km event, the longest on the program.

“I was just trying to channel my inner Kendall,” Masters said. “She was just digging so deep.”

Masters earned her second biathlon gold of the Games, her fifth total medal in China combining biathlon and cross-country skiing and her 15th Paralympic medal overall when including summer medals in cycling and rowing.

More pertinent: Masters is up to 12 career Winter Paralympic medals, one shy of the U.S. record of 13 shared by Alpine skiers Sarah Billmeier and Sarah Will.

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Masters has one individual event left — a 7.5km cross-country skiing race on Saturday — and, potentially, relay duty on Sunday. If she gets two medals, she will also break the record for most medals for an American at a single Winter Games, set by fellow Nordic skier Dan Cnossen in 2018.

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.

Also Friday, Huckaby earned her second medal in as many snowboard events, gold in the banked slalom following her bronze in snowboard cross. Huckaby earned a medal in all four of her events between 2018 and 2022, including three golds.

She tied Dutchwoman Bibian Mentel-Spee for the most Paralympic golds in snowboarding, which debuted at the 2014 Sochi Games. Mentel-Spee, a leader in the sport’s fight for Paralympic inclusion, died last March.

PARALYMPICS: Broadcast Schedule | Team USA medal count | Viewer Guide | FAQs

“Her husband told me before the race that Bibian would be on my shoulder today, and I think she was on my shoulder today,” Huckaby said, according to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Huckaby swept the snowboard cross and banked slalom golds in 2018 in a classification that in 2019 was taken off the Paralympic program due to a lack of riders. She applied to compete in either the corresponding men’s classification or to move into the remaining women’s classification, one with athletes with a lower level of impairment.

Para sport officials denied both requests. Huckaby appealed, and a German court ruled her eligible to “compete up” in the remaining women’s classification on Jan. 20, less than two months before the Games.

Also Friday, the U.S. hockey team beat China 11-0 to reach Sunday’s final against rival Canada, a rematch of the 2018 gold-medal game. The U.S. is going for a fourth consecutive Paralympic title.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen

Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

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Sifan Hassan sets marathon debut

Sifan Hassan

Sifan Hassan, who won 5000m and 10,000m gold and 1500m bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in an unprecedented triple, will make her 26.2-mile debut at the London Marathon on April 23.

Hassan, a 30-year-old Dutchwoman, said she will return to the track after the race, but how the London Marathon goes will play into whether she bids for the Olympic marathon in 2024.

“I want to see what I can do on the marathon distance, to make future decisions,” she posted on social media. “We’ll see if I will finish the distance or if the distance will finish me.”

Exhausted by her Olympic feat, Hassan reportedly went at least seven months after the Tokyo Games between training in track spikes. She finished fourth in the 10,000m and sixth in the 5000m at last July’s world championships in Eugene, Oregon.

“I really needed a break after the Tokyo Olympics,” Hassan said at worlds. “I was mentally crashed. I didn’t even care about running.”

London, billed as the best women’s marathon field in history, also boasts Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya, world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya, 2016 Olympic 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia, 1500m world record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia and the two fastest Americans in history, Emily Sisson and Keira D’Amato.

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