Top 14 of 2014: Evan Strong leads historic medal sweep at Paralympic Winter Games

By Jamie M. Blanchard | Dec. 16, 2014, 11:30 a.m. (ET)
Mike Shea, Evan Strong and Keith Gabel swept the men's snowboarding medals at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games
Mike Shea (left, silver medal), Evan Strong and Keith Gabel celebrate after sweeping the men's standing snowboard cross medals at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. Strong led the first-ever Paralympic podium sweep for the U.S. men.
From the slopes of Sochi, Russia, to the dance floor of Los Angeles, to the pavement of New York, 2014 was a thrilling year for the Paralympic Movement as Team USA athletes set the standard on and off the field of play. Records were broken. Legacies were made. And 2014 became the year to remember in the Paralympic Movement. From Dec. 15-28, will unveil the Top 14 moments of 2014 for U.S. Paralympics in chronological order.

Amy Purdy
Snowboarder Amy Purdy on the podium at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

U.S. women in Sochi

On the women’s side of the snowboarding competition, American Amy Purdy (Las Vegas, Nevada) held the third position throughout the competition capturing the bronze with a combined time of 2:14.29. Bibian Mentel-Spee of the Netherlands took gold and France’s Cecile Hernandez-Cervellon the silver.

“I just love snowboarding, it is something I have always been passionate about, and to be able to share it with other athletes and to share our sport with the world is really exciting," Purdy said after her runs. "It’s all about having fun, and that is what today is all about. I had a pretty challenging time, it was more challenging than I was expecting with the conditions this morning being choppy and icy and fast, and that makes it a little harder for me to absorb with my legs, so I started out super conservative this morning, then I was able to open it up."

American Cristina Albert (Denver, Colorado) finished just off the podium in fourth with a 2.35.26. After being unable to complete her second run, Heidi Jo Duce (Ouray, Colorado) had a solid third run finishing with 2:37.43 to round out the top five. Nicole Roundy (Salt Lake City, Utah) finished in eighth overall with a 2:59.57 and Megan Harmon (Huntsville, Alabama) finished in10th with a time of 3:31.09.

“I thought it was going really well," Albert said. "I was taking a lot of pride in the fact that I was the first ever Paralympian to go down the course being bib No. 1. I started out on a really good note and had a really nice clean run. On two I was nuking it and then made that big mistake, but I exceeded my own expectations at the end of the day, so I’m stoked.”

When American snowboarders Evan Strong, Mike Shea and Keith Gabel swept the men’s standing snowboard cross medals on March 14 at the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, the men made history in more ways than one. Not only was snowboarding make its debut at the Games, giving Strong (Maui, Hawaii), Shea (Castaic, California) and Gabel (Ogden, Utah) the first medals ever awarded in the sport, the podium sweep also marked the first time U.S. men won all three medals in any event at the Games.

 “Today is a dream," Strong said following his gold-medal performance. "I’m so ecstatic, I’m over the moon. I don’t even feel like my feet are on the ground right now. This course is super fun, you can generate a lot of speed, but it is super challenging.”

Strong finished with a combined 1:43.61 to take gold, Shea took silver in 1:44.18 and Gabel’s final combined time of 1:47.10 left more than two seconds between the Americans and the fourth place finisher, Carl Murphy of New Zealand.

“To be able to pull this [sweep] off is just a testimony to the United States’ training, to our coaches and what we’ve’ been working on all year long,” Strong said. “The U.S. snowboard team, we’re all best friends, we all encourage each other and we want everybody to go faster. We are in love with our sport. This sport gave us life back after our accidents, so what we are doing is celebrating life through snowboarding, and to be able to share it with the world through the Paralympics, that is just the icing on top.”

The dominant American men held the top of the leader board through all three runs with a battle for the top spot between Strong and Shea throughout the morning.

“These guys are my best friends outside of competition, so standing next to them on the podium means a lot to me," Shea said. "We’ve talked about this for a long time, and to actually have it happening now, I’m pretty speechless. You have no idea how hard we’ve all worked to get here. It’s been a long road, close to a decade for some people, so to be here at the top of this course, we’re all happy for each other regardless of the outcome.”

Run 1 featured Shea in the top spot with a time of 52.29 and Strong just behind in 52.55. Strong’s second run was the fastest run of the day for any competitor at 51.62 and was enough to bring him into the top spot edging out Shea by just one-hundredth of a second.

“It is a true honor [to be a part of the sweep]," Gabel said. "I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates or myself. It’s been a long time coming. You know a lot of us had to switch gears; a couple years ago we were all training for Korea [in 2018], then when we got the call that our sport was going to be in Sochi, we were like ‘alright, bring it on.’ Everybody, not just my team, did a really good job and kind of turned up the heat when they had to. To be a part of a clean sweep, man what an honor, what an honor. It is a serendipitous moment, standing up there and hearing the roar. It’s a surreal moment for me.”

Retired Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Tyler Burdick (Salt Lake City, Utah) finished in eight with a 1:52.49 and U.S. teammate Daniel Monzo (Glenwood, N.J.) finished in 18th with a time of 2:07.52.

“It is amazing to be a part of this team to take the first gold at these games, and it is an honor," Gabel said. "My runs were good. I definitely learned a thing or two and know what I need to work on for the future. I’m really happy with my results today, and I’ve got a lot to strive for too.”

The sweep was part of a dominant season for the U.S. men.

On Feb. 13, at the world cup finals in La Molina, Spain, Shea claimed the first ever overall title for the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing Para-Snowboard World Cup circuit. He also helped the United States to the first-ever nations cup, with the United States finishing 21,605 points ahead of the Netherlands.

Shea finished fourth in both races at the final but won four gold medals and one silver medal in the previous world cups, securing him the overall title. He finished first with 5,800 points while teammate Strong, who won a gold and silver in La Molina, placed second for the season with 5,000 points and Gabel, who won two bronze medals, was fourth with 3,200.

All three returned to competition in November with eyes on the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.

— Jen Remick contributed to this report