WHISTLER CREEKSIDE, B.C., Canada - In heavy rain and bitter cold, Alana Nichols (Farmington, N.M) and Stephani Victor (Park City, Utah) won gold and silver in the sitting division of today's giant slalom race. With the gold medal, Nichols becomes the first female U.S. Paralympian to claim gold in both summer and winter Games. This marks Victor's second silver of the 2010 Games.
Nichols won with a combined time of 2:57.57. Victor came in at 3.01.78 (+4.21) and Japan's Kuniko Obinata won the bronze with 3:08.71 (+11.14).
Nichols had the fastest time in the first run of day, giving her a comfortable cushion for the afternoon run and even with a mistake in the bottom part of the course, she maintained her lead.
"There was so much pressure up at the top," Nichols said, "I just put it out in faith and knew I had to ski what I had to ski...it's all so intense, I can't even put it together right now, but coming down to the bottom was just amazing. I lost it."
Nichols previously won gold with the U.S. Wheelchair Basketball team in Beijing. Jim Martinson is the only male athlete to have won gold in summer and winter games, winning for Alpine skiing (downhill in 1992) and track and field (1980 in men's 100 meter and 4x100 meter relay).
Nichols has made remarkable progress, only starting to ski five years ago. She has been competing in skiing since 2008.
Skiing in memory of her brother, who passed away last summer, Nichols was overcome with emotion. As she wiped away tears with her red, white and blue painted fingernails, she was beaming, "I'm just so proud," she said. "I'm proud to be an American and I'm just so thankful for all the coaching I've gotten. I've had so many people supporting me to get here, my family and friends, this isn't my win, it's everybody's win. I'm just lucky to be the person that gets to claim it."
Victor, who won silver in Sunday's slalom race, said today's results were a testament to excellent skiing and the coaching support from the U.S team's staff. A veteran of the team, Victor said she has respect for Nichols' athletic abilities and the energy she brings to the team.
"I'm so excited for my teammate," Victor said. "She skied an amazing first run and an even better second run. I'm proud to be up there with her and celebrate with her tonight."
Ray Watkins, the team's head coach, said this was the toughest racing day he's ever seen, citing the terrible weather conditions. "Both of these girls have tremendous spirit and fight. This is Alana's first win in the GS and she picked a good time to do it. We get to hear our song tonight and that's what it's all about," he said. "We're thrilled for both of them."
Of 13 competitors, the remaining U.S. women put in another strong performance. Laurie Stephens (Wenham, Mass.) and Ricci Kilgore (Reno, Nev) placed fifth and sixth respectively and Luba Lowery (Cumberland Foreside, Maine/Denver, Colo.) placed ninth.
The giant slalom didn't favor the U.S. men as they were plagued by the poor visibility and variable course conditions. No U.S. male finished in the top ten today.
Martin Braxenthaler of Germany won the gold with a time of 2:37.40 while Christoph Kunz (Switzerland) claimed the silver (2:40.35, +2.95) and Takeshi Suzuki (Japan) took the bronze (2:45.61, +8.21)
"That was what the Paralympics are all about," said Carl Burnett (Cape Elizabeth, Maine/Bend, Ore) after his second run. "Everything that could be thrown at you - rain, snow, wind, variable snow conditions, all of it -every element was there. It was a great challenge."
The speed events begin with downhill on Thursday and the team is looking forward to what's to come.
"Get more foghorns and cowbells and let's do this," Kilgore said after today's race.
1. Alana Nichols (Farmington, N.M) 2:57.57
2. Stephani Victor (Park City, Utah) 3:01.78 (+4.21)
3. Kuniko Obinata (Japan) 3:08.71 (+11.14)
5. Laurie Stephens (Wenham, Mass.) 3:09.16 (+11.59)
6. Ricci Kilgore (Reno, Nev) 3:17.44 (+19.87)
9. Luba Lowery (Cumberland Foreside, Maine/Denver, Colo.) 3:26.30 (+28.73)
1. Martin Braxenthaler (Germany) 2:37.40
2. Christoph Kunz (Switzerland) 2:40.35 (+2.95)
3. Takeshi Suzuki (Japan) 2:45.61 (+8.21)
14. Carl Burnett (Cape Elizabeth, Maine/Bend, Ore) 2:56.45 (+19.05)
18. Tyler Walker (Franconia, N.H.) 3:02.56 (+25.16)
26. Nick Catanzarite (Winter Park, Colo.) 3:37.68 (+1:00.28)
DNF: Gerald Hayden (Winter Park, Colo.)
DNF: Chris Devlin-Young (San Diego, Calif./ Campton, N.H.)