PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – It was a historic day for the U.S. Paralympic Nordic Skiing Team as Kendall Gretsch (Downers Grove, Illinois) and Dan Cnossen (Topeka, Kansas/Navy) won the first-ever gold medals in biathlon for Team USA. In total, the team won three medals on the opening day of competition at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
Gretsch and Cnossen will go down in history as the first Americans to win biathlon gold in the Paralympic or Olympic Games. Prior to today, the best-ever finish in either Games was Andy Soule’s bronze medal at the Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
It was a one-two finish for Gretsch and Oksana Masters (Louisville, Kentucky) in the women’s sitting classification. Gretsch was dominant on her skis in her Paralympic debut and overcame one missed shot on her second visit to the range to seal her victory by more than 24 seconds. Gretsch covered the 6-kilometer course in a time of 21:52.0. Masters shot a clean race to claim the runner-up spot in 22:14.8. Notably, Masters' silver-medal performance comes less than three weeks after an accident left her with an injured right elbow. Masters is a four-time Paralympian in rowing, cycling and Nordic skiing and now owns four Paralympic medals - two silver and two bronze.
Cnossen, a retired Navy SEAL, won gold in the men’s sitting class with a margin of victory of more than ten seconds as he finished the 7.5-kilometer course in a time of 19:45.8. Cnossen had one missed shot on his second trip to the range as he maintained a top-three spot throughout each split of the race. Cnossen’s finish is a massive improvement over results from Sochi where he had a best finish of sixth in the cross-country sprint and 10th in individual biathlon. Cnossen is a jack-of-all-trades who has also competed in Para-cycling at the world championships, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and is pursuing his second graduate degree from Harvard University.
TODAY’S BIATHLON SPRINT FINISHES
1st: Kendall Gretsch (Downers Grove, Ill./women’s sitting); Dan Cnossen (Topeka, Kan./Navy/men’s sitting)
2nd: Oksana Masters (Louisville, Ky./women’s sitting)
8th: Andy Soule (Kerrville, Texas/Army/men’s sitting)
12th: Aaron Pike (Park Rapids, Minn./men’s sitting)
14th: Joy Rondeau (Granby, Colo./women’s sitting)
16th: Ruslan Reiter (Manchester, Maine/men’s standing)
19th: Jeremy Wagner (Nānākuli, Hawaii/Army/men’s sitting)
20th: Bryan Price (Leeton, Mo./Army/men’s sitting)
Kendall Gretsch - gold
On how today’s race went…
"I'm just really excited to be here. It's my first Paralympics, first race, so it's just a great way to kick off the week and hopefully (there's) more to come. It was an awesome race.”
"We've put in a lot of work this season for biathlon specifically, so I'm just really proud that we're able to have a great race today."
On winning Team USA's first-ever women's Nordic skiing Paralympic gold medal...
"It's incredible. For the U.S., we've been watching the Olympics and they (Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins) had their historical (first) medal for the women's cross-country and that definitely motivated us coming here, so if I was able to do that, that's great.
"Motivation to get a medal definitely heightened after seeing that and seeing how they pushed through all their races. They're such a great team and we also have a really strong aspect of a really strong team all working together."
Dan Cnossen - gold
On the results of today’s race…
"In the race, I just wanted to see what I can do, not worrying about anything else. In the last Games that I did in Sochi, I let the TV screens and the announcer get to me and today I just focused on what I can do and nothing else matters. I crossed the line and I wasn't even going to look at the board and I was pleasantly surprised at the end."
On improving his 14th place in the event from Sochi 2014…
"In Sochi, I was pretty new, I'd been training for three years and it's four years later, a lot of the training has accumulated.
"I have focused more on the cross-country, but with my military background I've always thought that I could maybe focus more on the skiing and then the shooting would fall into place.”
On winning the first biathlon gold medal for Team USA…
“I would say Andy Soule was the trailblazer (for his biathlon bronze in Vancouver), and I would give a lot of credit to him. When I was new on the team, he was the inspiration, and I know he’s going to pop a good race here as well.”
“It’s a team effort. We have such an amazing team. The way they’ve recruited new athletes, developed the waxing protocol - it’s really showing. This is just the start and we have six more races including the relays to go. It’ll be exciting.”
Oksana Masters - silver
On the result of today’s race…
"I am so happy, I feel like I just won my gold medal, basically. I'm so happy to be on the podium."
On coming back from injuring her right elbow two weeks ago...
"I was told I was not going to be able to race. I was basically fighting for a chance at the start line. I dug as deep as I could for my team and I'm happy to be standing on the podium next to Kendall."
On USA's biathlon medals...
"It's amazing to have team USA having not only its first female biathlon medal but the first female Paralympic gold, followed by a silver. It gives me goosebumps. It could not have been a better feeling."
Competition resumes Sunday with the men’s and women’s sitting cross-country long-distance events. Skiing starts at 10:00 a.m. KST (Sunday, March 11)/8:00 p.m. EST (Saturday, March 10).
NBC Olympics is providing 250 hours of coverage from PyeongChang, including 94 hours on television, which is NBC Olympics’ most ever for a Paralympic Winter Games. View the complete TV and streaming schedule here.