Laurie Stephens

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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