|U.S. Army Reserves veteran Jeremy Wagner earned his first national title in the cross country sprint race at the 2014 U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Championship at Soldier Hollow.
MIDWAY, Utah – At the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Championship at Soldier Hollow, Team USA’s top Nordic skiers proved they’re on the fast track to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
The national championship ran from Jan. 2-8, coinciding with the able-bodied U.S. Cross Country Championship held at the same venue. The races represented a chance for the United States’ top athletes to move up the ranking list to secure a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Team that will compete in Sochi.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Dan Cnossen (Topeka, Kan.) led the men’s sit-ski division throughout the week, recording first-place finishes in the 7.5-kilometer biathlon as well as the 15k and 10k cross country races. Army veteran and Vancouver 2010 bronze medalist Andy Soule (San Antonio, Tex.) was close behind Cnossen in nearly every race, recording four second-place finishes.
“I was really happy with my performance and that of my teammates in Soldier Hollow at nationals,” Cnossen said. “Andy Soule and I battled in every race, and that’s what we need to improve collectively.”
Army Reserves veteran Jeremy Wagner (Nānākuli, Hawaii), also raced to his first national title in the cross country sprint race. Wagner finished just .04 seconds ahead of second-place Sean Halsted (Spokane, Wash.), an Air Force veteran who also competed at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games.
U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing High Performance Director John Farra said Wagner has made significant improvements in his racing, even in the short weeks since the International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Cup in Canmore, Alberta.
“It was really nice to see a couple of athletes shine that we haven’t heard much from, specifically Jeremy Wagner,” Farra said. “Winning his first national title was a big deal against a legitimate class of athletes, and he really stepped it up, so that was super exciting.”
Oksana Masters (Louisville, Ky.), who earned a bronze medal at the Alberta World Cup, was again Team USA’s top performer in the women’s sit-ski division. Masters earned national titles in the 6k biathlon as well as the 10k and 5k cross country races.
Tatyana McFadden (Clarksville, Md.) bested Masters in the cross country sprint race, earning a national title with Masters nearly four seconds behind in second. Also competing at nationals in the women’s sit-ski division were Beth Requist (Marlboro, Mass.) and Monica Bascio (Evergreen, Colo.), who each reached the podium in two events.
In the standing races, adaptive athletes raced on the same course and in the same field as their able-bodied counterparts. Marine Corps veteran Omar Bermejo (Grand Rapids, Mich.), who is an above-elbow amputee, earned four national titles in biathlon and cross-country events, as did Navy veteran Kevin Burton (Boulder, Colo.), who competes in the men’s visually-impaired division.
“To be the best in the world in Paralympic skiing, you’ve basically got to be skiing with some of the best able-bodied athletes,” Farra said. “Every single day, they learn to go faster. They learn what it takes to be a professional ski racer, and they learn how to cut a couple seconds off of their time in each race.”
In order to best prepare for the Paralympic Winter Games, Farra said, the event schedule at Soldier Hollow was set up to mirror what the athletes will face in Sochi.
“We had four sit-ski races in five days, which is a tough schedule, but we did it by design because if you look at the Sochi schedule, there are seven races in nine days,” Farra said. “The athletes get very little rest, so we wanted them to experience a little of that here.”
Even the course conditions were designed to resemble the Sochi terrain.
“The Soldier Hollow trails are basically at the same altitude as Sochi,” Farra said. “And we chose race trails that would best mimic the Sochi trails, so there were very similar climbs and technical components.”
The U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Team does not have much time to recover before returning to international competition. Team USA’s next destination is Oberstdorf, Germany, where top Sochi hopefuls will compete in a world cup from Jan. 17-19.
The U.S. Team that will compete at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games will be named no later than Jan. 31, 2014. Team USA will send 17 athletes in total to compete in cross-country skiing and biathlon events, a significant increase from the six that represented the U.S. at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.
For more information, please contact Caryn Maconi, U.S. Paralympics, at 719-866-2196 or Caryn.Maconi@usoc.org.