Oksana Masters

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Memorable Paralympic moments from 2010s decade

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NBCSports.com looks back at the 2010s this week. Here are 13 Paralympic moments that defined the decade …

Vancouver 2010: Lauren Woolstencroft sweeps standing Alpine golds
The Alberta native delighted the home crowd by winning all five standing races (by at least four seconds). Woolstencroft, later featured in a Super Bowl commercial, actually helped prepare the Vancouver Winter Games venues as an electrical engineer. She retired shortly after those Paralympics, her third.

London 2012: Jessica Long wins 5 swimming golds, 8 medals
Long, aiming for her fifth Paralympics next year, owns 23 Paralympic medals. Only retired swimmer Trischa Zorn has more among U.S. Paralympians with 55, most by any Paralympian ever. Long debuted at the Paralympics at age 12 in 2004 (winning three events), but her greatest success came at London 2012. She matched Michael Phelps‘ feat of eight medals at a single Games, including individual titles in freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly and individual medley.

London 2012: Brad Snyder’s gold on anniversary of battlefield injury
Snyder earned five swimming gold medals this decade, but we’ll focus on his second one, in the 400m freestyle on Sept. 7, 2012. It came one year to the day after the U.S. Navy officer stepped on an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan, resulting in complete blindness. “It’s not a poor anniversary,” Snyder said at the London Games, according to TeamUSA.org. “I’m really looking forward to celebrating how far myself and my family have been able to come over the past year.”

London 2012: Esther Vergeer wins 4th gold, 470th straight match
The Dutch wheelchair tennis legend made the Paralympics her last competition, bowing out at the London Games. She finished her career with 470 straight match wins dating to 2003 and 21 Grand Slam singles titles. Vergeer would say that her career highlight also came at the Paralympics, when she rallied from match point down in the Beijing 2008 final.

London 2012: Alex Zanardi, former CART champ, sweeps cycling events
Those who saw will never forget Zanardi’s open-wheel racing accident in 2001, when the Italian lost both of his legs and was read his last rites. Zanardi said he went 50 minutes with less than one liter of blood, and his heart stopped beating seven times. He lived. He turned to paracyling. He became a champion again, sweeping the road race and time trial in his Paralympic debut.

Sochi 2014: U.S. sweeps snowboarding’s Paralympic debut
Americans grew to dominate snowboarding at the Olympics. In the Paralympics, the U.S. began gobbling medals from the very start. Evan Strong, Michael Shea and Keith Gabel swept the medals in the sport’s debut, marking the first time the U.S. owned the podium in any Paralympic men’s event.

Sochi 2014: Ukraine participates amid Crimea situation
The night before the Opening Ceremony, the Ukrainian Paralympic team met for two hours to determine whether it would boycott the Games. Russian troops had moved into Crimea. “If we went back home, all we could do was lie on the sofa and watch the news about what was going on in the Crimea,” Ukraine Paralympic Committee President Valeriy Sushkevych said, according to the International Paralympic Committee. “Yet in Sochi, by taking part we could fight for peace for Ukraine on Russian territory.” Ukraine, which in a symbolic protest sent one athlete to the Opening Ceremony, finished second in total medals.

Rio 2016: U.S. sweeps triathlon’s Paralympic debut
Americans won the first two Paralympic women’s triathlon titles, including a medals sweep in one division with Allysa Seely, Hailey Danisewicz and Melissa Stockwell. For Stockwell, the event taking place on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks brought added meaning. Stockwell lost her leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004, becoming the first female U.S. soldier to lose a limb in active combat. She then became the first Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran to make Team USA. “When it got really tough out there I thought of those that gave the ultimate sacrifice and didn’t make it back,” she said, according to The Associated Press. “They pushed me to the finish — just wanting to give my thanks to them.”

Rio 2016: Tatyana McFadden sweeps 400m through 5000m
McFadden, perhaps the most well known U.S. Paralympian of the decade, hit her peak in the Rio Paralympic cycle. She won all six races between 100m and 5000m at the 2013 World Championships. She won a silver medal in cross-country skiing at the Sochi Winter Games. She swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon wheelchair races in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Then in Rio, McFadden nearly swept the board again: gold in the 400m through 5000m, adding silvers in the 100m and marathon.

Rio 2016: Marieke Vervoort competes after signing euthanasia papers
Vervoort earned four Paralympic track medals between 2012 and 2016, all after signing euthanasia papers so she could decide when to end her life. The Belgian competed in wheelchair racing with an incurable, degenerative spinal disease that limited her to 10 minutes of sleep on some nights. “You can go in peace when the time comes,” she told NBC Sports’ Lewis Johnson in Rio. “I don’t want to live like a plant that I need day-in, day-out [help].” Vervoort ended her life on Oct. 22.

Rio 2016: Iran wins men’s volleyball title with 8-foot player
Few athletes stood out at the Games like Morteza Mehrzad, an 8-foot, 1-inch player on Iran’s sitting volleyball team that struck gold. “I am not the whole team, I am only taller than the others,” Mehrzad said, according to the IPC, disliking the attention.The tallest person in his country, noticed by an Iran sitting volleyball coach while appearing on TV, led the team in scoring in the gold-medal match.

PyeongChang 2018: Oksana Masters powers through pain
A rower and a cyclist in the Summer Games, Masters made her mark most of all in cross-country skiing. In PyeongChang, she overcame a dislocated right elbow a week before the Games — and reinjuring it in a fall during the Paralympics — to win her first two gold medals at her fourth Games overall.

PyeongChang 2018: Declan Farmer’s golden goal
The decade started with an Olympic golden goal and ended with a Paralympic golden goal. Farmer, then a 20-year-old Princeton student, tied the Paralympic final with Canada with 37.8 seconds left, then potted the winner 3:30 into overtime. He led the U.S. to a third straight Paralympic hockey title, one year after 2014 Paralympic coach Jeff Sauer died of pancreatic cancer.

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BEST OF 2010s: Summer Olympians | Winter Olympians | Teams
MOMENTS: Summer Olympics | Winter Olympics | Paralympics | Viral

Nathan Chen, Simone Biles, U.S. women’s soccer team win Team USA Awards

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Simone Biles was named female athlete of the year and Nathan Chen took the corresponding award for men Tuesday at the Team USA Awards in Los Angeles.

Six-time Olympic swimming champion Amy Van Dyken-Rouen, who has taken up wheelchair CrossFit competition since an ATV accident in 2014 left her paralyzed from the waist down, took the Jesse Owens Olympic Spirit Award. She works to help other people with spinal cord injuries through the Amy Van Dyken Foundation and Amy’s Army, which has launched a Wheels for Kids program to help injured children find wheelchairs that may not be covered by insurance.

The show also included a medal ceremony in which the teammates and family of the late Steven Holcomb received silver medals that were reallocated after doping infractions changed the results of the 2014 Olympic bobsled competition.

MORE: Holcomb’s legacy lives on 

Award winners from the ceremony:

Female Olympic athlete of the year: Simone Biles, gymnastics 

Biles took a one-year break after winning four gold medals and a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics, then came back to do even better, unleashing new skills on the balance beam and in the floor exercise. This year, she won five gold medals at the world championships, breaking the record for career medals.

Female Paralympic athlete of the year: Oksana Masters, Para Nordic skiing and Para cycling 

Already an eight-time Paralympic medalist in Nordic skiing, biathlon and rowing, Masters had a breakout year in cycling, taking silver medals in the world championships. In Nordic skiing, Masters took five world championships (three cross-country, two biathlon) and the overall World Cup championship in sitting cross-country along with a second-place overall finish in biathlon.

Male Olympic athlete of the year: Nathan Chen, figure skating 

Chen had a double back-to-back year, winning his second straight world championship and his second straight Grand Prix final. He also started his 2019-20 season by winning both of his Grand Prix events. He and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu are far ahead of any other skaters in posted scores this season.

Male Paralympic athlete of the year: Ben Thompson, Para archery 

Thompson took the world championship and the No. 1 ranking in the men’s compound event and led the U.S. to a world record in the team compound event.

Olympic team of the year: U.S. women’s soccer team 

The team claimed the sport’s biggest prize for the second straight time, working its way through a difficult field that included a quarterfinal matchup with host France to win the World Cup once again, adding to its previous wins in 1991, 1999 and 2015.

Paralympic team of the year: U.S. sled hockey team 

Like the women’s soccer team, the sled hockey team went unbeaten in the world championships and claimed a fourth world title.

MORE: Golden goal clinches championship

Olympic coach of the year: KiSik Lee, archery 

This year, Brady Ellison won a world title and set a world record in the Pan Am Games, and Ellison teamed with Casey Kaufhold to win the world title in the mixed team event, which will be on the Olympic program in 2020.

Paralympic coach of the year: Wesley Johnson, paratriathlon 

The founder and head coach of Balanced Art Multisport in Salt Lake City, Johnson is the personal coach of three top-10 paratriathletes, and he served as an assistant coach in the world championships, where three of the athletes he coached won silver medals.

NBC will have highlights of the show at 2 p.m. ET Dec. 22.

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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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