Time for a breakthrough for women's Nordic skiers

By Caryn Maconi | March 03, 2014, 9:30 a.m. (ET)
Beth Requist
Beth Requist will make her Paralympic debut at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

 Meet Team USA

Monica Bascio
  • Hometown: Evergreen, Colo.
  • Best finish in international Nordic competition: 2009 IPC World Cup of Skiing, silver  
  • Previous Games experience: 2006, 2010, 2012 (summer, cycling)
Oksana Masters
  • Hometown: Louisville, Ky.
  • Best finish in international Nordic competition: 2014 IPC Nordic Skiing World Cup Oberstdorf, bronze; 2013 World Cup Canmore, bronze
  • Previous Games experience: 2012 (summer, rowing)
Tatyana McFadden

  • Hometown: Clarksville, Md.
  • Best finish in international Nordic competition: 2013 IPC Nordic Skiing World Cup Cable, 4th
  • Previous Games experience: 2004 (summer, track and field), 2008 (summer, track and field), 2012 (summer, track and field)
Beth Requist

  • Hometown: Winter Park, Colo.
  • Best finish in international Nordic competition: 2013 IPC Nordic Skiing World Cup Cable, two bronzes
  • Previous Games experience: None 

At the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Susan Dunklee made history by earning the top individual finish, a 12th-place, for a U.S. woman in Olympic biathlon competition.

Enter the Paralympians.

Team USA’s four female Nordic skiers – Monica Bascio, Oksana Masters, Tatyana McFadden and Beth Requist – have already made history as the largest female Nordic skiing contingent the U.S. has ever sent to a Paralympic Winter Games. All four will compete in cross-country skiing with Masters also taking on biathlon.

Only two women, Bascio and Kelly Underkofler, raced for Team USA at the Vancouver 2010 Games. 

Bascio, a two-time cycling silver medalist from the London 2012 Paralympic Games who will be making her third Winter Games appearance in Sochi, has witnessed firsthand the growth of U.S. Paralympics Nordic skiing throughout her years in the sport.

“If I look way back, there has been huge growth in the legitimacy of elite sport and the level of competition internationally, as well the amount of support – not only financially but in coaching and setting the bar high,” Bascio said. “The U.S. really gives athletes what they need to perform, and I think that’s what keeps me training.”

Masters and McFadden, meanwhile, are summer Games medalists who were recruited to Nordic skiing because of their demonstrated athleticism and endurance. It's a strategy the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing program has implemented more than any other sport, as five members of the 2014 team (three women and two men) have competed in a different sport at the Paralympic level.

McFadden was originally introduced to the sport through Paralympic alpine skier and wheelchair basketball player Alana Nichols, who convinced her to give winter sports a try. John Farra, the high performance director for U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing, invited McFadden to a training camp to test her mettle.

“I thought cross-country would be best because I have the strength and endurance,” McFadden said. “(Farra) had me come out and try the equipment and try skiing, and I really enjoyed it.”

But the talent development didn’t stop once McFadden showed up. Farra and his coaching team helped her learn not just how to ski, but how to ski efficiently. Through one-on-one coaching, McFadden learned the best way to transfer the engine she already had from wheelchair racing into a sit-ski.

“The coaches were really willing to help me learn the sport, and my teammates were really supportive,” McFadden said. “I kind of got sucked into the sport. I was behind in the tactics and the technique part of it, but that takes time.”

Masters, meanwhile, is a bronze medalist with Rob Jones in mixed double sculls rowing from the London 2012 Paralympic Games. She has already earned two bronze medals on the International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Cup circuit this season and may be Team USA’s best chance for a medal in Sochi.

Requist is the only female Nordic skier on the U.S. team that has not competed in any sport at the Paralympic level. Still, she has two world cup medals under her belt, and she reached the podium twice at the 2014 U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Championships. An avid snowboarder and runner before she was paralyzed in 2011, Requist’s athleticism transferred well to cross-country skiing.

With Bascio as a mentor, the three women new to the Winter Games have a valuable resource to help them through their Sochi experience.

“I like to think I’m helpful,” Bascio said. “I want to be a support for the younger, strong women that are going to be on top.”

Should any of the four medal in Sochi, it will be the first Paralympic medal earned by a U.S. woman in cross-country skiing since 1994. Team USA has never medaled in women’s biathlon or cross-country at the Olympic level.

Paralympic teammate Andy Soule made history at the Vancouver Games, earning Team USA’s first-ever biathlon medal – Olympic or Paralympic – with a bronze.

Bascio, Masters, McFadden and Requist also have an opportunity to influence the Paralympic Movement on a wider scale. This year, the Paralympic Winter Games will receive an unprecedented level of broadcast coverage in the United States. NBC and NBCSN will combine to air 52 hours of coverage, including 27 hours of live competition. Additionally, all events will be live-streamed on TeamUSA.org.

“I get super excited. I like to tell people about it,” Bascio said of the broadcast, which marks a significant step up from the four hours of airtime the London 2012 Paralympic Games received. “I like to educate people about what (the Paralympics) are at the elite level.”

They may just be four, but Team USA’s Nordic women are stronger than ever.

They’re ready for the world stage.

It’s time to make history.