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It’s Go Time For Team USA: A Sport-By-Sport Look At The 2022 Paralympic Winter Games

By Chrös McDougall | Feb. 21, 2022, 4:30 p.m. (ET)

The ice will barely have time to be resurfaced and the ski slopes groomed, before the next batch of competitions begin.

The Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 kick off with the Opening Ceremony on March 4, less than two weeks after the Olympic Winter Games wrap up in the same city. Over the next nine days, a field of athletes expected to be 700 strong will compete for 78 sets of medals across five sports.

Team USA arrives in Beijing after one of its best performances at a Winter Paralympics four years ago in PyeongChang, where Americans led the overall medal count with 36. Many of the biggest stars from 2018 will be back, including names like Declan Farmer (sled hockey), Andrew Kurka (alpine skiing), Oksana Masters (Nordic skiing) and Brenna Huckaby (snowboarding). 

More recently, the U.S. sled hockey team arrives as holders of the last two world titles, while alpine skiers, Nordic skiers and snowboarders are coming off the historic Para Snow Sports World Championships which tool place during January in Lillehammer, Norway. It was the first time where the world championships for the three sports were contested together. Team USA reached the podium in all three sports, and 28 times overall, which was second only to the Russian Paralympic Committee.

Here’s a look at what to expect from Team USA when the Games begin.

Laurie Stephens competes during the women's sitting downhill race at the World Para Snow Sports Championships on Jan. 14, 2022 in Lillehammer, Norway.

 

Alpine Skiing

The days of Team USA winning 37 alpine skiing medals at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City are long gone. There are fewer medal events these days, as each race now has a simplified program of one sitting, standing and visually impaired event for men and women. The international field continues to grow stronger each year, too. Nonetheless, led by returning Paralympic medalists Laurie Stephens and Andrew Kurka, each of whom reached the podium earlier this year at the world championships in Lillehammer, Team USA will contend for podiums on multiple events.

Athlete Spotlight: Laurie Stephens

Stephens, a sit skier, will be Team USA’s most decorated alpine skier in Beijing with six medals over four Paralympic Winter Games. The native of Wenham, Massachusetts, won both of her gold medals at her first Winter Games in 2006, and a strong performance in Lillehammer showed she’s still got it. She scored gold (giant slalom) and bronze (slalom) in Norway, but historically has thrived across the spectrum of alpine events. Stephens turns 38 on March 5.

Key Date: March 5

The first day of racing is one you won’t want to miss as Kurka and Co. attack the downhill. And in Kurka’s case, we mean really attack. The Palmer, Alaska, native knows only one gear: all out. It doesn’t always work out, but when he’s on he’s really on — such as when he won the downhill world title in 2017 and the Paralympic title in 2018. More recently he won bronze in the event in Lillehammer.

Read the Meet the Team story to get to know the full alpine ski team.

Oksana Masters and Kendall Gretsch pose with their medals after the women's 15-kilometer sitting cross-country race during the World Para Snow Sports Championships on Jan. 18, 2022 in Lillehammer, Norway.

 

Nordic Skiing

Cross-country skiing has been part of the Paralympic Winter Games from the start in 1976, with biathlon joining the party in 1988. Today the disciplines — which in the Paralympics both operate under the banner of Nordic skiing — might be Team USA’s greatest strength. Though stars like Kendall Gretsch and Oksana Masters are known for piling up the medals, the U.S. boasts plenty of depth, with Jake Adicoff, Sydney Peterson and Aaron Pike also collecting medals at the recent world championships in Lillehammer.

Athlete Spotlight: Kendall Gretsch and Oksana Masters

How can you pick just one? The sit skiing superstars are often 1-2 in their races, and their history-making similarities hardly stop there.

In 2018, Gretsch became the first American to win an Olympic or Paralympic medal in biathlon, and she also added a second gold in cross-country skiing. Then last summer she won the paratriathlon in Tokyo, becoming just the fifth American to claim gold in both the Summer and Winter Paralympics.

Masters also won two Nordic skiing gold medals in 2018, bumping her career total to eight Paralympic medals, including a 2012 bronze as a rower. Then, in Tokyo, she won two gold medals as a cyclist, joining Gretsch in the exclusive club of Summer and Winter champs.

Key Date: March 5

Sit skier Dan Cnossen was Team USA’s most decorated athlete at the 2018 Paralympics, coming home to Topeka, Kansas, with six medals. The former Navy SEAL claimed his lone gold in the 7.5-kilometer biathlon. This year’s short race is 6-kilometers, and it kicks off the Nordic competition at the Zhangjiakou National Biathlon Centre Norwest of Beijing.

Read the Meet the Team story to get to know the full Nordic ski team.

Declan Farmer plays in a match against Korea during the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on March 13, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.

 

Sled Hockey

For the past two decades Team USA has been a force in sled hockey. Since breaking through for its first major title at the Paralympic Winter Games Turin 2006, the U.S. has reached the podium at every global championship since. Included in that run were the last three Paralympic gold medals (2010, 2014, 2018) and five of the past seven world titles (2009, 2012, 2015, 2019, 2021). This year’s team will have to overcome the loss of longtime goalie Steve Cash, who retired in October after 16 seasons with Team USA. However, with 11 players returning from the 2018 gold-medal team, the top-ranked Americans are not lacking in depth or firepower.

Athlete Spotlight: Declan Farmer

The Tampa native has already put together one of the sport’s great resumes, and he’s only 24. Farmer arrives in Beijing as a two-time Paralympic gold medalist and three-time world champion. Four years ago in PyeongChang, he scored the late tying goal and then the overtime winner in the gold-medal showdown against Canada. His 11 goals in PyeongChang tied the Paralympic record for a single Winter Games.

Key Date: March 5

Come on. It’s the United States, Canada and hockey. Are you really going to miss this one? The rivals open the 2022 Paralympic tournament with a rematch of the 2018 gold-medal game. It’s also a rematch of the 2019 and 2021 world title games for the matter — and Team USA won all three. But don’t wait until the morning to tune in. The puck drops at 12:05 a.m. ET.

Read the Meet the Team story to get to know the full sled hockey team.

Mike Schultz completes during a training session for combined snowboard cross during the World Para Snow Sports Championships on Jan. 20, 2022 in Lillehammer, Norway.

 

Snowboarding

The U.S. men swept the snowboardcross podium in Sochi, and American snowboarders have been on a roll ever since. The addition of snowboarding to the Paralympics in 2014 has been a welcome one for Team USA, with American riders having won a record six gold medals — matching the next best country’s total medal count. In total, the U.S. has won 17 snowboarding medals. That tally looks poised to grow in Beijing after another strong Team USA performance of eight medals — three of them gold — at the world championships in Lillehammer. The sport at the Paralympic level has expanded since its 2014 debut to now include banked slalom events in addition to snowboardcross, while also adding new classifications. One thing that hasn’t changed? The U.S. remains the team to beat. 

Athlete Spotlight: Mike Schultz

If someone’s nicknamed “Monster,” you know you better watch out. The St. Cloud, Minnesota, native is a beast on the slopes, having won Paralympic gold in snowboardcross and silver in banked slalom in 2018. He’s since added a pair of silver medals at the world championships in Lillehammer. And the charismatic rider doesn’t just dominate on the slopes; the company he founded, BioDapt Inc., creates prosthetics that help numerous others thrive in Para sports as well.

Key Date: March 7

An American has won a gold medal in snowboardcross in each of the last two Paralympics, and Team USA will aim to extend the streak on this day when all of the men’s and women’s snowboardcross finals are held. Evan Strong (2014), Brenna Huckaby (2018) and Schultz (2018) are the previous U.S. winners. Can they do it again in Beijing?

Read the Meet the Team story to get to know the full snowboarding team.

Oyuna Uranchimeg (R) and David Samsa (L) competes against Russian Curling Federation team during the bronze medal game of the 2021 World Wheelchair Curling Championship on Oct. 30, 2021 in Beijing.

 

Wheelchair Curling

The last four years saw the U.S. drop out of the top tier in international wheelchair curling, then begin a rapid rise back towards the top. Following a program-worst 12th-place finish at the PyeongChang Winter Games four years ago, the U.S. continued to slide, even missing out on the world championships in 2020. Instead playing in the “B” tournament, the U.S. squad never sulked. Instead, they won that tournament to return to the world championships in 2021. And competing there this past fall in Beijing, Team USA reached the semifinals and ultimately finished fourth, tying the program’s best result at that stage. That same squad is headed back to Beijing for the Paralympics, where it could be a contender for the country’s first Paralympic medal in the sport.

Athlete Spotlight: Oyuna Uranchimeg

Uranchimeg arrived in the U.S. for a short trip in 2000, then expected to return home to Mongolia. Instead, she was paralyzed in a car crash and ended up staying in Minnesota. Not only did she make a career for herself in the Twin Cities, eventually earning a master’s degree in nonprofit management, but she also became one of the country’s preeminent wheelchair curlers and now plays the role of lead on skip Matthew Thums’ team. Second David Samsa joins Thums and Uranchimeg in making his Paralympic debut in Beijing, while vice skip Steve Emt is back after serving as skip in 2018.

Key Date: March 8

The fourth day of pool play will bring Team USA’s toughest contest, a showdown with hosts China. In October 2021 it was China who ended Team USA’s run at the world championships, winning their semifinal 8-5 en route to the world title. China is also the defending Paralympic gold medalist.

Read the Meet the Team story to get to know the full wheelchair curling team.

Chrös McDougall

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic Movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

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