Kendall Gretsch

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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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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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