Oksana Masters reacts as she crosses the finish line in the women's sprint sitting biathlon at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 5, 2022 in Beijing.
ZHANGJIAKOU, China – Team USA’s Oksana Masters and Kendall Gretsch started things off with a bang by winning the first two medals of the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Saturday at the Zhangjiakou National Biathlon Centre.
Masters and Gretsch won gold and bronze, respectively, in 20:51.2 and 21:52.9 in the Para biathlon -women’s sprint sitting race. China’s Yilin Shan finished in silver-medal position in 21:06.3.
Masters was shocked and delighted to cross the finish line and capture Team USA’s first gold at these Paralympic Games. The win earned Masters her 11th career Paralympic medal and fifth Paralympic gold.
“To be able to just start off the Paralympic Games in Beijing and bring home Team USA a gold medal is absolutely incredible,” Masters said. “And it's incredible because I get to do it with my teammate on the podium by my side again … I think this just shows that there's incredible stuff that's going to happen for Team USA in the Para Nordic program.”
Masters, Team USA’s most decorated athlete competing at the Beijing Paralympics, said her focus these Games is “chasing those perfect races.”
She is one of the strongest cross country skiers in the field but has struggled in the past with shooting, most recently at the world championships in January. She was stunned to learn she shot cleanly this race and said she had to do a double take to make sure the target really went down.
"It's definitely incredible because in Lillehammer world championship I think I missed more shots than I actually hit. It was not good shooting for me,” she said. “(Going into this) I just really, really tried to have confidence in the past in what I have done and know that I can do it. And not rush the process, not read someone else's grades and just take each shot for one at a time.”
Gretsch, a three-time Paralympic gold medalist, added her first Paralympic bronze to her resume.
“We're the first race to kind of kick things off and hopefully we can set the tone for the rest of the races and the rest of Team USA,” Gretsch said.
Masters, 32, was thrilled to share the podium with her U.S. teammate, who finished just over a second behind.
“Kendall is an incredible biathlete,” Masters said. “Honestly, I started this race and I'm like okay well Kendall won so now I'm just going for a second because she's such an incredible, consistent sharpshooter and she's skiing well.”
The duo came into Beijing fresh off gold-medal performances just six months ago at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 – Masters with two in road cycling and Gretsch in paratriathlon.
“It's feeling very different than in Tokyo conditions today,” Gretsch joked after the race. “Trying to channel how warm I was there when it's so cold. But it's exciting. It's always fun to be at the Paralympics.”
The 29-year-old from Downers Grove, Illinois, came into these Games as the defending world champion in three biathlon events and plans to race a full program of six Nordic events.
Lera Doederlein, 18, made her Paralympic debut racing alongside Gretsch and Masters to finish ninth in the women’s sprint sitting race. The multi-sport athlete found her way to Para Nordic skiing in 2019 after connecting with Masters on social media.
“For me is a pretty incredible experience for me (racing with Oksana and Kendall),” Doederlein said. “Especially since I'm only 18 years old, and it's my first Paralympics. I'd say especially in this first race it was pretty incredible to experience it with them.”
Team USA’s Dani Aravich was the lone American athlete in the women’s sprint standing race, finishing 13th in the competitive field.