Strong, Duce take U.S. Paralympics Snowboard Cross National Championship titles

By Caryn Maconi | April 09, 2014, 6:50 p.m. (ET)
Heidi Jo Duce
Heidi Jo Duce, who finished fifth at the Paralympic Winter Games, won her second consecutive national title on April 9.

Mike Shea (left), Evan Strong (center) and Keith Gabel (right) swept the medals at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games with Strong taking gold. The trio finished in the same spots at the national championship.

COPPER, Colo. – 2014 U.S. Paralympians Evan Strong (Nevada City, Calif.) and Heidi Jo Duce (Ouray, Colo.) each took home national titles today at the U.S. Paralympics Snowboard Cross National Championships at Copper Mountain, Colo.

The national championships were the finale of an exciting season for U.S. snowboarders, one that saw snowboard cross featured in the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games for the first time in history.

The men’s results mirrored the U.S. podium sweep at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, as Strong, Mike Shea (Castaic, Calif.) and Keith Gabel (Ogden, Utah) took first, second and third respectively. In Sochi, the three finished in the same order.

It was a close race as usual for the three Paralympic medalists. Strong and Shea, who were separated by just half a second in Sochi, finished with combined times that were a little more than a second apart today.

“I’m always stoked to see my boys doing well, and I think they feel the same way as well,” Gabel said of placing third behind his teammates. “We battled for 1-2-3, same as in Sochi. If I’m ever going to miss a spot, I’d rather it go to those guys than anyone else.”

Navy veteran Tyler Burdick (Salt Lake City, Utah), who took eighth at the Sochi Games, finished in fourth overall. 

In the men's upper-limb impairment class, Marc Dervaes (West Chester, Pa.) raced to his first national title after missing last year's national championship due to injury. Dervaes' win was a decisive one, as he finished with a combined time that was more than six seconds faster than his closest competitor.

On the women’s side, it was Duce who took the top spot. The victory earned her back-to-back national championship titles, as she edged U.S. teammate Amy Purdy at the 2013 edition.

Purdy, the 2014 Paralympic bronze medalist, was absent from Wednesday’s race as she is competing on the T.V. show Dancing with the Stars. Still, Duce’s competition was in top form. Nicole Roundy (Salt Lake City, Utah), who finished eighth in Sochi, took second place while newcomer Brenna Huckabee (Baton Rouge, La.) rounded out the podium in third.

Duce finished an uncharacteristic fifth at the Sochi Games and said she was happy to be back on the podium to close out the competition season.

“It was nice to have a good race after not doing too well in Sochi. I was glad to be ending the season on positive note,” Duce said. “It was soft because it was spring riding, but I tend to have the best results on Copper courses. They build really good courses.”

Cristina Albert (Denver, Colo.), who earned a career-high fourth-place in Sochi, finished fifth today at nationals.

Duce said the women’s field is growing more competitive each year, as rookies like Huckabee and Albert continue to surprise with standout results. She also pointed out that both Roundy and Huckabee are above-knee amputees, marking the first time two above-knee amputees have reached the podium since snowboard cross became an event recognized by the International Paralympic Committee.

“It was very cool to see two above-knee amputees on the podium,” Duce said. “I’m very proud of Nicole and Brenna. They killed it, and I’m so proud of them. I’m stoked to see them stepping it up.”

It was a spring day in Copper with temperatures in the 50s, conditions which made for a positive atmosphere at the event.

“It was beautiful day to race, and one of the cool things was that no one had bad vibes about the weather,” Gabel said. “We were racing in T-shirts.”

Though Thursday’s national championship closed out the competition season, the work is not over for the top U.S. athletes. The U.S. Paralympics Snowboard National Team will head straight into a training camp in mid-May followed by summer on-snow training in the southern hemisphere in preparation for the 2014-15 season.