Team USA athletes produced some memorable performances at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. Beginning with Jon Lujan carrying the U.S. flag at the Opening Ceremony and an American sweep in the Paralympic snowboard cross debut, memorable moments were created in Sochi. Here is a look back at 14 moments to remember from the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
Snowboard Cross Men’s Medals Sweep
Standing snowboard cross made its Paralympic debut at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, and Team USA snowboarders delivered. Evan Strong led a one-two-three sweep of the podium, finishing just ahead of Mike Shea and Keith Gabel. Shea, who trains with Gabel, also won the first International Paralympic Committee World Cup overall title in 2014. “We’re all best friends on the U.S. snowboard team,” Strong told USA Today. “We all encourage each other, we want everyone to ride better and faster because we’re in love with our sport.” On the same day, Amy Purdy won a bronze medal in the women’s edition of the event.
Jallen: Moments To Remember
Alpine skier Stephanie Jallen was just 18 years old in her Paralympic Games debut in Sochi, and her bronze-medal finishes in the women’s super-G and super combined standing events still hit her emotionally. At the inaugural United States Olympic Committee Best of U.S. awards after the Games, her super-G win was named Best Moment of the Paralympic Games, and she was also named the Best Female Paralympian. “It still makes me cry when I see it on film,” she said. “Every time I see it, I also feel it, smell it and remember it. I don’t think I will ever lose the feeling of it.”
Lujan And The Flag
A member of the U.S. Marine Corps for two different tours, Jon Lujan was wounded during a mission in Iraq in 2003. Eleven years later, the soldier-turned-skier was selected as Team USA’s Opening Ceremony flag bearer for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Lujan began alpine skiing in 2008, three years after surgery to repair two ruptured disks in his back resulted in damage to his spinal cord. He then fought through injuries to make the U.S. Paralympic Team and competed in Sochi despite suffering a torn meniscus in his knee. In Sochi, he competed in the super-G, giant slalom and slalom. Before each race, he put ashes of his late nephew inside the leg of his ski gear as a tribute. Lujan, 43, was an inspiration for the other athletes as a Paralympian Ambassador and continues to serve in that role. He said he was honored at being picked by his teammates to carry the flag at Sochi’s Opening Ceremony, and in front of his mom, dad and daughter in the stands. “Obviously the flag to me represents our country, and ever since we became a country that flag has stood in every battle and every holiday, and it‘s draped over the coffins of our fallen military,” he said. “So there‘s a lot of meaning behind that flag.”
Sled Hockey Gold
Talk about a miracle on ice. The U.S. sled hockey team faced host Russia on its own ice in the gold-medal game. A goal by Josh Sweeney and shutout by goalie Steve Cash stood up for Team USA’s 1-0 championship win, as the United States became the first nation to win back-to-back gold medals in sled hockey. Cash, the U.S. flag-bearer for the Closing Ceremony, had six saves. The gold medalists were a mix of veteran players and youth. Team captain Andy Yohe and Taylor Lipsett each won their third Paralympic medal and retired after the Sochi Games. Declan Farmer, making his Paralympic debut at age 16, had a goal and assist in his first game (against Italy). Brody Roybal, then age 15, had two goals in the same game.
Bathum: Silver Twice In Alpine Skiing
A two-time Paralympian, alpine skier Mark Bathum won two silver medals in Sochi and later took home the Best of U.S. Best Male Paralympic Athlete award. Bathum and guide Cade Yamamoto combined for second-place finishes in the men’s visually impaired super-G and super combined races. Bathum came close to actually getting four podium finishes. He finished fourth in the slalom and fifth in downhill. Bathum’s vision loss is because of retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition that causes the loss of all peripheral vision.
No Stopping Nichols
Four-time Paralympian Alana Nichols began the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games on a high, winning a silver medal in the women’s sitting downhill. But two days later, she crashed and was injured during the super-G event. She had to be airlifted off the mountain. Even a dislocated jaw couldn’t stop Nichols. She returned to competition on the final day of the Games and finished fourth in the giant slalom. What’s next for the three-time Paralympic gold medalist in skiing and wheelchair basketball? She wants to try sprint kayak racing at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games.
Masters: Cross-Country Medalist
Oksana Masters, a two-time Paralympian who medaled in rowing at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, made her Paralympic skiing debut in Sochi and responded by winning two medals in five events. She won the first Paralympic cross-country medal for a U.S. woman in 20 years, a silver in the women’s sitting 12-kilometer race. Then, on the final day of competition, she won a bronze medal in the 5-kilometer race. Masters raced in three cross-country events and two biathlon events. She began her Nordic skiing in 2013 in the world cup and is again on the slopes as the 2014-15 gets underway. She won a 1-kilometer race in December at an IPC world cup event in Finland.
Megan Harmon’s ‘Undead Day’
Snowboarder Megan Harmon celebrates her “undead day” every year on March 12. It was on that day in 2009 that Harmon was hit by a car while riding a motorcycle. The accident resulted in the amputation of her left leg. In 2014 she celebrated her “undead day” while in Sochi for her first Paralympic Winter Games. She competed in the inaugural Paralympic snowboard cross event five years and two days after the accident, finishing 10th.
Visit By The Doctor
Two-time Paralympian Heath Calhoun received a very personal visit when he won a silver medal in the super combined race at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. Among the spectators at the venue was Arthur Jason De Luigi, a doctor who was based at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and saw Calhoun when he arrived there in 2003 after being severely wounded during an attack on his Army unit in Iraq. A rocket-propelled grenade hit Calhoun’s Humvee, resulting in both of his legs being amputated above his knees. Calhoun, a retired staff sergeant, received a Purple Heart award. In Sochi, Calhoun also finished fourth in the super-G and sixth in giant slalom.
First To The Podium
Seven-time Paralympian Allison Jones can be depended on for that first American medal. Jones, who won Team USA’s first medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games as a cyclist, also won Team USA’s first medal in Sochi, this time a bronze in women’s standing downhill skiing on March 8. Jones and Alana Nichols are the only Americans to win gold medals in both the summer and winter editions of the Paralympic Games. Jones’ medal record is long: Beginning with the Salt Lake City Games, where Jones won silver medals in super-G and giant slalom, Jones has won eight medals. She retired from competitive skiing after the Sochi Games but intends to compete in cycling at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games.
Russian Family Reunion, And A Medal
A three-time gold medalist at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and the fastest wheelchair racer in the world, Tatyana McFadden turned to Nordic skiing for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. After two seasons of world cup racing, she emerged in Sochi as a silver medalist in the 1-kilometer sprint in her fourth Paralympic Games, and she also met her birth mother as a bonus. Among the spectators watching Tatyana, a native of Russia, were her birth mother sitting in the stands with her American adopted mother. McFadden was born with spina bifida and survived the disease after several operations in the United States. Deborah McFadden adopted her at age 6. Birth mother Nina Polevikova was able to attend the Sochi Paralympic Games because Tatyana used her winnings from the Boston, Chicago, London and New York City marathons to finance a trip for her birth family and the St. Petersburg, Russia, orphanage director. “I am very proud, it’s amazing. It’s like a miracle,” Polevikova told USA Today through a translator.
TV Time For Paralympics
The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games delivered a TV record: NBC and the NBC Sports Network combined for 52 hours of television coverage in Sochi. More than half of those hours were live coverage, including the Opening Ceremony. NBC’s coverage included the sled hockey gold-medal game won by the United States. In addition, TeamUSA.org streamed all of the events live. USOC CEO Scott Blackmun called the TV coverage “a significant turning point for the Paralympic Movement in the United States.”
Part Of The Team
Aziza, who is a guide dog for two-time Paralympian Danelle Umstead, was an enthusiastic part of the U.S. Paralympic Team in Sochi. Aziza had an official headshot done, was in the yearbook and spent time playing in the dorms with the other members of Team USA when Danelle was training on the slopes with her husband, Rob, who is Danelle’s guide in competition. Aziza became a part of the Umstead team in 2013 after Danelle’s former guide dog, Bettylynn, was retired. Danelle won a bronze medal in the super combined, finished fourth in the super-G and slalom, and was fifth in the downhill. She finished first in the world cup overall standings.
Curling: So Close To A Medal
Team USA came just one win short of making the four-team playoff in Sochi, getting close to its first Paralympic medal. Patrick McDonald, Jimmy Joseph, Penny Greely, David Palmer and Meghan Lino combined for a 4-5 record — one win shy of tying China and Great Britain for third and fourth place. Steve Brown and Rusty Schieber coached Team USA. The United States finished fourth at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. “We’ve got to get that medal, man. We’ve come so close,” said Joseph, who is now focused on the 2015 World Championships.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.