Kendall Gretsch wins first U.S. gold medal of Paralympics

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Kendall Gretsch, an ESPY-nominated paratriathlete, earned the first U.S. medal of the Paralympics. It just happened to be gold in her very first Paralympic event and the first U.S. women’s biathlon medal in the Olympics or the Paralympics.

The U.S. swept the opening biathlon events — its first Olympic or Paralympic biathlon titles — and earned an Alpine skiing gold, too. It has now won more gold medals — three — than it did in the entirety of the Sochi Paralympics.

Gretsch, 25, won the 6km sitting on the first of nine days of medal competition in PyeongChang.

Then retired Lt. Cmdr. Dan Cnossen, the only double-amputee Navy SEAL in history, according to TeamUSA.org, earned his first Paralympic medal, also a gold, in the men’s 7.5km sitting event.

Oksana Masters made it a U.S. one-two in the women’s race, finishing 22.8 seconds behind Gretsch for her fourth Paralympic medal between Summer and Winter Games. Masters’ previous medals came in cross-country skiing and rowing.

In Alpine skiing, 2017 World champion Andrew Kurka crushed the sitting downhill field by 1.64 seconds for his first Paralympic medal in his second Games. Starting at age 8, Kurka won six Alaska state wrestling titles before an ATV accident at age 13 severely damaged three vertebrae in the middle of his spinal cord.

He withdrew during the Sochi Paralympics after breaking his back in his first training run.

“It makes it that much more meaningful, since I have broken my back, my femur, all the bones I have broken throughout my career,” he said. “All the pain, all the anguish, all the doubt I have ever had, it’s all worth it.”

Laurie Stephens captured her seventh Paralympic medal Saturday morning, bronze in the women’s sitting downhill.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year.

Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for Rio 2016, it would not include Gretsch’s classification. Still wanting to compete at a Games, she picked up Nordic skiing, according to TeamUSA.org.

Cnossen earned his first medal in 25 career Paralympic and world championships biathlon and cross-country skiing events dating to 2011.

In September 2009, Cnossen was serving as a U.S. Navy SEAL in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when he was injured by an improvised explosive device.

Cnossen learned his legs had been amputated just above the knee when he woke up after being unconscious for eight days, according to Harvard, where he earned master’s degree in public administration and theological studies.

He was awarded both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Valor from the Secretary of the Navy for his service in combat.

The Paralympics continue with more medal events in Alpine skiing and biathlon overnight into Saturday, all events streamed live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

NBCSN will air broadcast coverage starting at 11 p.m. ET.

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MORE: Paralympic TV, streaming schedule

Dan Cnossen, double-amputee Navy SEAL, wins Paralympic biathlon gold

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Dan Cnossen came to the Paralympics with quite the résumé: purusing his second master’s degrees from Harvard. A Bronze Star with Valor and a Purple Heart. The only double-amputee Navy SEAL in history, according to TeamUSA.org.

Now he’s also a gold medalist.

The 37-year-old earned his first medal in 25 career biathlon and cross-country events at the world championships and Paralympics dating to 2011. He won the first men’s biathlon event of the PyeongChang Games, the 7.5km sitting competition.

Cnossen did not know he won the race when he crossed the finish line due to the staggered start. Biathletes went off at 30-second intervals and raced against the clock.

“A guy who was taking the transponder off was saying, ‘I think an American is in at first,’ and I was like, ‘Maybe that’s me,'” said Cnossen, who finished 14th in this event in Sochi.

In September 2009, Cnossen was serving as a U.S. Navy SEAL in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when he was injured by an improvised explosive device.

Cnossen learned his legs had been amputated just above the knee when he woke up after being unconscious for eight days, according to the Harvard Gazette.

Four months later, Cnossen sat next to First Lady Michelle Obama at a White House dinner with military leaders. He picked up Nordic skiing that same year.

“I love being part of a team in the military, and when I became injured I was looking to seek that out again,” Cnossen said Saturday. “The Paralympic team has been the most perfect fit for me.”

Then in April 2014, Obama told Cnossen’s story at the White House visit for Team USA Olympians and Paralympians.

“I will always remember Dan,” Obama said. “Dan’s come a long way in the four years that we met, and I know that his story and the stories of all our Olympians and Paralympians are nowhere near finished.”

The Paralympics continue with more medal events in Alpine skiing and biathlon overnight into Saturday, all events streamed live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Paralympic TV, streaming schedule