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Winter athletes crossover for gold at Tokyo Paralympics

Oksana Masters
Oksana Masters
Published: Aug. 31, 2021 at 4:41 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Back in 2018, Nordic skiers Kendall Gretsch and Osksana Masters pushed through the South Korean snow for their first-ever Paralympic gold medal.  On their way to the Beijing Games which take place next March, the two have snagged a summer gold to add to their winter collection.

Tuesday at the Fuji Speedway, which is normally reserved for those in motorsports, Masters held on to her handcycle enduring 15 miles of twists-and-turns as she posted a leading time of 45:40.05 in the Women’s Road Trial H4-5, en route to her first-ever summer gold.  Even though Masters’ success in the winter is well-documented, this is her first gold in three trips during the summer.

“It went way better than I could’ve ever imagined,” said the Louisville, Ky.-native in an emotional TV interview, which can be seen on NBCOlympics.com.  “I was not imagining a result like this.  I just wanted to get through the corners safe and through the downhills safe.”

In spite of the seven medals she’s collected in the winter (biathlon and cross-country skiing), she says her fifth-place finish in Rio 2016 kept her motivated for Tuesday’s race.

“It’s been a very challenging, challenging journey to get to Tokyo- just to get to the start line,” she said as she was trying to catch her breath.

Oksana is one of the few to have competed in four different sports throughout her career.  In the  London 2012 Paralympics, Masters took bronze in rowing- mixed doubles.  She was born in Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine (then, still a part of the Soviet Union) in 1989 with numerous radiation-related birth defects caused from the Chernobyl nuclear explosion in 1986.  After she spent several years in a Ukraine orphanage, she was adopted by an American family in 1997.

While Oksana endured all 24 km of the time trial uncontested (time trails are based on speed instead of tactics as competitors start at different times), Gretsch, who comes from Downers Grove, Ill. faced a much different set of challenges in Sunday’s triathlon- PTWC class, which includes swimming, handcycle racing and wheelchair racing.  Volunteers are there to assist in the transitions from different segments of the race.  This also her first time to compete in the Summer Games.

Even though Gretsch posted a winning time of 1:06.25, she trailed Lauren Parker of Australia for 1:06.24 of the event.  Kendall strategically saved enough energy, as she surged past Parker at the finish line for the win.  Fifty minutes before the race of her life, she finished the swimming portion being as far back as sixth-position.

Gretsch, who was born with spina bifida, became a breakthrough star in PyeongChang 2018, as she took gold in biathlon’s Women’s 6 km, along with one in cross-country skiing’s 12 km- both in the Sitting classification.

All Olympic and Paralympic events can be seen on NBC’s various networks- broadcast, streaming, and online.  While the Summer Games wrap up Sunday, Gretsch and Masters return to the slopes to defend their titles as the 2022 Winter Paralympics, which begin March 4.

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