A sunny Wednesday (14 March) with spring-like temperatures close to 20 degrees saw teenage talents shining, a Masters’ win, the first gold for the hosts of the next Paralympics and an historic gold for a country whose only medal was won 24 years ago. It was a breathtaking day five of competition at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games.
The photo finish of the Alpensia Biathlon Centre was put to work in the cross-country sprint event. In Wednesday’s first final, the men’s 1.1km sitting, USA’s Andrew Soule had to wait for the photo finish to have his gold medal confirmed, leaving Belarus’ Dzemitry Loban with silver and USA’s Daniel Cnossen.
President of South Korea Moon Jae-in had already witnessed the exciting first race when Oksana Masters came to track determined that the day of her first Paralympic gold medal had come. She was dominant in the women’s cross-country 1.1km sitting finishing more than two seconds ahead of silver medallist Andrea Eskau from Germany.
“This is the most amazing medal of my career,” said Masters. “I can’t believe this is really happening right now.”
But there was more to come in the next race, the men’s 1.5km standing, when a 45-year-old snow sculptor, Alexandr Kolyadin, gave Kazakhstan its first Paralympic Winter Games gold medal. Prior to Wednesday the country’s only medal in the Winter Paralympics was a silver at Lillehammer 1994.
Japan’s Yoshihiro Nitta claimed the silver while the bronze was awarded to both Canada’s Mark Arendz and Finland’s Ilkka Tuomisto as not even the photo finish could show who had crossed the finishing line first. And there was also another gold medal – the 12th of his career – to Canada’s Brian McKeever in the men’s 1.5km vision impaired.
If the Japanese fans had already passionately celebrated Nitta’s silver in the cross-country they had even more to be proud of at Jeongseon Alpine Centre. In a day in which favourites made uncommon mistakes, a 21-year-old sitting skier had her career’s greatest moment.
Momoka Muraoka won the giant slalom with a combined time almost three seconds ahead of the silver medallist, an impressive Paralympic debutant Linda van Impelen from Netherlands. The star pairing of Austria’s Claudia Loesch and Germany’s Anna Schaffelhuber only managed third and fifth respectively.
Ecstatic Muraoka said after her first gold that she makes plans to compete at home in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Summer Games.
“Now the [Paralympic Winter Games] are finished I am relieved and I don’t want to think about it until then. Now I want to have a rest, but later I want to [get to] to Tokyo 2020 in short distance running,” said the Japanese.
Norwegian teenage talent Jesper Pedersen won his and his country’s first gold medal at PyeongChang in the men’s giant slalom sitting. Igor Sikorski’s bronze was Poland’s first medal in the Games.
Italy also picked up its first gold thanks to Giacomo Bertagnolli, guided by Fabrizio Casal, in the men’s giant slalom vision impaired. On the women’s side Slovakia’s Henrieta Farkasova and her guide Natalia Subrtova left no room for surprises taking their fourth gold in PyeongChang.
“We are always trying to set new goals to motivate us, there is always somewhere we can go next. It’s not about winning so many races but as [Olympic alpine skiing gold medallist] Mikaela Shiffrin, ‘You are only as good as your last race’. This is our secret,” Farkasova said.
In Gangneung it was the day for the classification games but Czech Republic and Sweden made it feel like a Paralympic final. The Swedes were leading 3-1 but the Czechs equalised with one minute to go. After a goalless overtime, Czech Republic won the penalty shootout and will face Norway for the fifth place.
The Norwegians thumped Japan 6-1 with a hat-trick from nine-time Paralympian Rolf Einar Pedersen. The Japanese now take on Sweden in the match for the seventh place.
In wheelchair curling China became the first team to qualify for the semi-finals after winning both of their games, against Slovakia and Neutral Paralympic Athletes, to end the day on a 8-1 record and sit alone at the top of the standings.
Norway and Switzerland also won both of their games today to push up the rankings and put themselves back into play-off contention. Switzerland beat USA in the morning session, then Germany in the afternoon session. Norway beat hosts Korea in front of a sold out Gangneung Curling Centre in the afternoon, and Finland in the evening session. Both teams now sit alongside Great Britain in joint fourth place with a record of 5-4.