Pain and gain for Paralympians in Sochi |

Pain and gain for Paralympians in Sochi

Reid Tulley
Oksana Masters during the flower ceremony following her silver medal finish in the women's 12 kilometer cross-country race at the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.
Buzz Covington | Buzz Covington Photography

The 2014 Paralympic games in Sochi, Russia, are in full swing with some of the athletes competing out of Winter Park are already winning medals to add to the overall medal count for Team USA.

As of Thursday, March 13, Team USA holds the 13 spot in the medal count with four silver medals and four bronze medals, with some promising athletes on deck to compete to add to that count in the coming days.

Conditions on the courses in Russia have been variable with warm, spring-like conditions for the beginning of the games and new snow falling overnight on Tuesday.

Team USA has made a strong showing so far in the alpine skiing results, claiming two silver medals and five bronze medals in the events, though have also suffered some disappointments with favored athletes just missing podium spots.

Alpine skiing

Laurie Stephens of Massachusetts is leading in the medal count for Team USA. She continued a medal streak on Wednesday by sweeping the bronze medal podium spot in the women’s alpine sitting class, claiming bronze for Super-G, slalom, and downhill. The medals add to her career medal count of five, making her a seven-time medalist in the Paralympic games.

“I’m just trying to focus on my skiing,” Stephens said in a press release. “For me in slalom, I had two really good runs and am pretty excited about that. Every day is different and all of the conditions are different, you never know what is going to happen.”

Danelle Umstead, a visually impaired alpine skier, and her guide and husband Rob, both of Winter Park, fell just shy of the podium for the women’s visually impaired slalom race that was held Wednesday.

The duo fought hard from holding fifth place during their first run to move up one spot to the fourth position during their second run, falling shy of a bonze medal by 3.32 seconds.

“I am always moving on, I don’t ever hold back,” said Danelle Umstead in a press release. “We did that in Vancouver (2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games) and it worked well for me. Never looking back, just doing the best you can each run and then moving forward. But we are also looking forward to the rest of the day tomorrow.”

Alana Nichols, a sit skier who trains with the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park and calls the area home, fell during her last run during the women’s Super-G race and had to be airlifted from the course to a local hospital.

“Hey friends, sorry it’s taken me a while to update…I am just fine. I was knocked unconscious and had to have stitches in my chin but feel incredibly blessed to have left the mountain today in the shape I am in,” Nichols said in a post to her Facebook account. “My teammate Stephani Victor-Kuonen is in the room next to me and she is also going to be OK. She’s got a pretty banged up face… Praying for a quick recovery for both of us. Thank you all for the love, prayers and all of the support… It means more than you know.”

Before Nichols’s fall on Monday, she had already earned a silver medal for women’s downhill on Saturday, claiming the only silver medal in alpine skiing for Team USA’s women.

Jasmin Bambur, a sit-skier and Granby local who races out of Winter Park, hasn’t been able to clench a podium spot yet, missing a gate mid-course during the men’s downhill race on Saturday and taking the seventh spot in the Super-G race on Sunday.

Bambur’s teammate, Heath Calhoun, missed a bronze medal during the Super-G race on Sunday by a little more than five seconds, claiming the fourth spot.

Mark Bathum of Team USA claimed the only other silver medal for men’s alpine skiing so far, with a second spot in the men’s Super-G visually impaired class on Sunday after missing a bronze medal by less than eight-tenths of a second during the men’s downhill race on Saturday.

“We were hoping for more success quite frankly,” Bathum said in a press release regarding the downhill race on Saturday. “It’s a fantastic course. I mean it runs down where the men’s Olympic downhill ran so it’s the toughest course we’ve been on probably since the last Paralympics, and so it was a great track, really challenging hill, lots of bounces and terrain in it, and it was a good challenge for us.”

Stephanie Jallen of Team USA added to the country’s medal count by taking the bronze medal in the women’s standing Super-G on Monday.

Allison Jones, of Colorado Springs, claimed a bronze medal in downhill during the first day of competition, marking her first downhill medal and eighth Paralympic medal.

Alpine skiing competition resumed on Thursday with men and women’s Super-G finals. Also wrapping up Thursday was the men’s biathlon competition.

Biathlon and Cross Country

Two women who train with the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park claimed the only two medals Team USA currently holds for cross-country skiing events.

Tatyana McFadden claimed the silver medal in the women’s 1 kilometer sitting cross-country sprint race on Wednesday, finishing only one-tenth of a second behind the gold medal finisher with other competitors close on her tail.

“I could not go easy, I needed to go hard from the start,” McFadden is quoted as saying in a press release. “I knew they were coming and I could feel them down my neck. It was a good race.”

McFadden is competing in her first ever Paralympic Winter Games and started cross-country skiing only one year ago, though she holds 10 Paralympic medals in track and field.

“I can’t even believe it. My main goal was just to come in and make it to the final,” McFadden said. “I am just so happy and so proud.”

Oksana Masters, another Winter Paralympic rookie who also trains with the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, claimed the first medal in cross-country skiing for Team USA after coming in second just behind the gold medal winner for the women’s 12 kilometer race.

Masters is also new to the sport of cross-country, having only skied for a year before the games, though is another accomplished athlete in the summer Paralympic games, having won a bronze medal for rowing in 2012.

“It’s pretty amazing, I am in disbelief,” Masters is quoted as saying in a press release. “I have been rowing for 10 years and only skiing for less than a year. I really have to thank my training from rowing because it prepared me well for skiing; I’m so happy right now.”

Also working hard in the women’s cross-country events is Beth Requist, a Winter Park local, who took the 16th spot in Sunday’s race and 19th spot during Wednesday’s sprint race.

On the men’s side of cross-country, athletes that race out of Winter Park have yet to claim a podium spot but two of the three men in the games that train with the National Sports Center for the Disabled took the fifth and sixth spots in the 1 kilometer sprint race on Wednesday. Andrew Soule and Dan Cnossen took fifth and sixth respectively.

Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334

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