Wild Winter Paralympics

The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics provided plenty of redemption stories and a handful of highlight-reel finishes

By John Groth

One of the most successful Paralympic Games for the United States finished with a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat gold-medal victory.

Team USA’s men’s para ice hockey team rallied from a one-goal deficit in the final 40 seconds, defeating Canada 2-1 in overtime in South Korea in mid-March and recording the team’s third straight Paralympic title in the sport.

It was just another exciting, wild and fun finish, which encapsulated the team’s 2018 Paralympic Games — and one in which the United States led the medal count for the first time in more than 25 years.

Here are some of the major highlights from this year’s Games.

Thrilling Three-Peat

Team USA men’s para ice hockey captured its third straight Paralympic gold medal in its most exhilarating fashion yet.

Forward Declan Farmer’s two goals lifted the United States to a wild and electrifying come-from-behind victory, as Team USA defeated Canada 2-1 in overtime in the gold-medal final at the Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, South Korea.

With only 1 minute left in regulation and the U.S. trailing 1-0, Team USA coach Guy Gosselin pulled goalie Steve Cash for an extra skater. After a Canadian shot went wide, the United States’ Brody Roybal hit Farmer with a cross-ice pass. Farmer launched a shot and scored with 37.8 seconds remaining to tie the game at 1. 

Then, eight-and-a-half minutes into overtime, Farmer netted the game-winner, lifting the U.S. to its unprecedented third straight Paralympic gold medal in para ice hockey.

Farmer finished as the 2018 Paralympics’ leading goal scorer with 11 goals and overall points scorer with 17. He was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Roybal (10 goals and six assists) was named Best Forward. Cash totaled 11 saves.

Forward Billy Bridges scored Canada’s lone goal off assists from Liam Hickey and Ben Delaney in the first period. 

Team USA defeated Russia 1-0 in the 2014 Sochi Paralympic gold-medal game and Japan 2-0 in the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games gold-medal game. 

In March, Team USA lost its head coach, Jeff Sauer, who died at age 73. A 2014 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, Sauer was in his sixth season as head coach of the United States’ national sled hockey team. 

Military Members’ Major Success

Military members had a memorable 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympic Games, as well.

There was Navy SEAL veteran Dan Cnossen, who finished with six medals. Cnossen was the first American man to win a biathlon gold medal in Olympic and Paralympic history. He won gold in the men’s sitting sprint biathlon, finishing the 7.5-kilometer course in 19 minutes, 45.8 seconds and taking the event over Belarusian Dzmitry Loban by a little over 10 seconds. Cnossen missed just one of
10 shots on the range. His best Paralympic finish previously had been sixth in the men’s cross-
country sprint. 

Cnossen also earned silver in the men’s middle-distance 12.5-kilometer sitting biathlon (46:37.3) and men’s 15-kilometer sitting cross-country (42:20.7) events. 

There was Army veteran Andy Soule, who rallied to defeat Loban in the men’s 1.1-kilometer sitting sprint, leaning in at the finish line to win his first Paralympic gold medal. Soule and Loban recorded an identical time of 3:31.4, but Soule earned the win thanks to a photo finish. 

Soule also finished third in the men’s middle-distance 12.5-kilometer sitting biathlon (47:08.7), and with he and Cnossen taking the podium, it marked the first time two U.S. men earned podium biathlon finishes in Olympic or Paralympic history.

And then, there were the USA men’s para ice hockey team military members, who helped Team USA win its third straight Paralympic gold medal — an unprecedented feat. They included Ralph DeQuebec (Marine Corps), Travis Dodson (Marine Corps), Jen Lee (Army), Luke McDermott (Marine Corps), Josh Misiewicz (Marine Corps) and Rico Roman (Army).

Female Power

Despite dislocating her right elbow just two weeks before the 2018 Paralympic Games, Oksana Masters made a pretty prolific achievement.

She finished as the most decorated female U.S. athlete, earning five medals — gold in the women’s sitting cross-country sprint (4:06.7) and sitting 5-kilometer cross-country (16:42.0) events, silver in the women’s sitting 6-kilometer biathlon (22:14.8) and women’s sitting 12.5-kilometer biathlon (50:00.0) and bronze in the women’s sitting 12-kilometer cross-country event (39:04.9).

She wore a brace on her right elbow and was forced to withdraw from a biathlon race during the week, but she managed to still come away with that handful of medals.

Teammate Kendall Gretsch was highlighted as one to watch at these Paralympic Games, and she didn’t disappoint. Gretsch won the first Olympic or Paralympic biathlon gold medal for a U.S. athlete when she took the women’s sitting biathlon sprint event in 21:52.0, just under 22 seconds ahead of Masters. Gretsch also won gold, taking the women’s 12-kilometer cross-country skiing event (38:15.9). Gretsch earned the first medal for the United States at the 2018 Paralympics.

Then, there was the impressive Paralympic debut of Brenna Huckaby, who swept the women’s LL1 snowboarding event, winning gold in snowboard cross and banked slalom (56.17 points). She was the only U.S. athlete to finish undefeated in individual competition at the 2018 Paralympic Games.

Medal Count

For the first time since the 1992 Paralympic Games, the United States finished atop the overall medal count.

Team USA totaled 36 overall medals (13 gold, 15 silver and eight bronze) and finished eight medals ahead of Canada (eight gold, four silver and 16 bronze). Just as impressive was that Team USA led in overall and gold medals on each day of the 10-day Paralympic Games. The United States also surpassed its medal total from the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Games (18) on the fifth day of competition in PyeongChang.

It marked the United States’ highest medal total since 2002, when it won 43 at the Salt Lake City Paralympic Games. And it marked Team USA’s best performance at a non-U.S.-hosted Paralympic Games since 1994, when the U.S. won 43 medals in Lillehammer, Norway. 

U.S. Curling Comes Up Empty

It was a rough Paralympics for the U.S. wheelchair curling team. 

With a revamped roster filled with youth, Team USA struggled at the 2018 Winter PyeongChang Paralympic Games, finishing with a 2-9 record and 11th out of 12 teams overall. 

Team USA lost three matches by one point and two more by two points.

After losing their first two matches to Korea (7-3) and Germany (6-4), Team USA rolled to a 10-2 victory over Sweden, then lost five straight matches — falling to Finland (8-5), Neutral Paralympic Athletes (6-4), China (6-4), Canada (6-5 in extra ends) and Switzerland (7-4) — before defeating Great Britain (9-3). The U.S. closed out the round-robin tournament, falling to Norway (5-4) and Slovakia (7-6).

Redemption For Kurka

Andrew Kurka got his redemption.

After breaking his back in a training run right before the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Games, he returned for the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics and took home a title. He won gold in the men’s downhill skiing event, finishing in 1:24.11 (1.64 seconds faster than Japan’s Taiki Morii) and becoming the first U.S. man to win a gold medal in alpine skiing since 2006. He earned silver in the men’s super-G sitting event, finishing in 1:26.89, missing gold by 1.06 seconds to Canada’s Kurt Oatway. Kurka also finished seventh in the super combined.

 

 

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