Oksana Masters celebrates on the podium after winning the Cycling Road Women’s H5 Road Race at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 1, 2021 in Tokyo.
The pressure of competing in a Paralympic Games is clear: a special, often once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent your country and try for the highest awards in sports.
For U.S. multi-sport medalist Oksana Masters, the pressure of the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 was different, colored with sharp intensity. She was not only coming to Tokyo to compete in her second Summer Paralympics, and fifth Games overall. Masters also carried the additional pressure of being one of Team USA’s biggest stars, with a bright spotlight on her thanks to her endorsements, publicity and big predictions for medal hauls in her cycling events.
She responded in her trademark fashion, bringing her best when it mattered. Masters, 32, took gold in both the road race and time trial, pushing her overall Paralympic medal total to 10. In doing so she became only the fourth woman, and sixth American overall, to win gold medals in the Summer and Winter Paralympics.
It’s been a long, sometimes winding road to get there.
Born in Ukraine with damage to her hands and legs due to radiation poisoning, Masters was adopted by an American mother at age 7 and eventually had both legs amputated.
Her Paralympic journey began at the London Games in 2012, where she and partner Rob Jones won a bronze medal in the rowing trunk and arms mixed double skulls event.
She then went on to win a silver and bronze medal as a Nordic skier at the Sochi Winter Games in 2014, and later added her first two gold medals four years later as part of a five-medal haul in cross-country skiing and biathlon in PyeongChang.
Along the way, Masters also picked up handcycling as a form of cross training and competed in that sport at the Rio Games in 2016, finishing just off the podium in both events.
Cycling. Cross-country skiing. Rowing. Biathlon. Regardless of the sport, Masters has shown she knows how to compete and win. And yet, when she crossed the finish line on Sept. 1 to win the road race H5 in Tokyo — after winning the time trial H4-5 the previous day — she was overcome with emotion.
“This basically sums up my emotions of @Tokyo2020,” Masters posted on Instagram, alongside a photo of her in joyful tears as the gold medal hung around her neck. “All happy tears mixed with ugly crying when you realize your dreams came true even when you doubted yourself at times but your team behind you always believed in you.
“I CAN’T wait to put 2 GOLD Medals around my mom’s neck.”