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Oksana Masters wins first U.S. gold of Winter Paralympics; Ukraine gets 3 golds


USAs Oksana Masters reacts after crossing the finish line in the womens sprint sitting biathlon event on March 5, 2022 at the Zhangjiakou National Biathlon Centre, during the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games (Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Oksana Masters began what could be a historic Winter Paralympics by winning the first U.S. gold medal of the Games. Ukraine earned the most golds on the first day of competition.

Masters, a biathlete and cross-country skier, won the women’s biathlon sitting sprint, her fifth career Paralympic gold medal and 11th overall medal between Summer and Winter Games. Fellow American Kendall Gretsch took bronze, four years after winning the sitting sprint.

“In Sochi 2014 I was a medal contender. I went the wrong way and was out of the medals,” Masters said. “In PyeongChang I didn’t get to race healthy [fractured elbow], and here, my third time around -- it just feels absolutely incredible.”

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Masters could race up to seven times over nine days of medal competition through March 13.

She moved into a tie for third on the U.S. women’s career Winter Paralympic medal list with her eighth. Alpine skiers Sarah Will and Sarah Billmeier share the record of 13, which Masters could pass at these Games.

Masters now owns Paralympic gold medals in biathlon, cross-country skiing and cycling. She won two cycling golds at the Tokyo Games six months ago. Gretsch won triathlon gold at the Tokyo Games.

Masters, 32, was born in Ukraine with a set of birth defects believed to be caused by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. She bounced between orphanages for seven years before being adopted by an American single mother.

“It’s the stars and stripes 🇺🇸 that keeps my Ukrainian heart beating,” was posted on Masters’ social media before the Games. “I’ve always been proud of where I come from. And I can’t wait to race for the two countries that make me whole.”

Ukraine won three of the other five biathlon events on day one, including a medals sweep of the men’s vision impaired sprint. Ukraine, a Paralympic power, won the most biathlon medals at the 2018 Paralympics.

“Medals mean nothing compared to the lives of relatives and people who have suffered already through war,” said Oksana Shyshkova, who won the women’s vision impaired sprint.

In hockey, Declan Farmer broke Joe Howard‘s career U.S. Paralympic points record with one goal and three assists in a 5-0 win over rival Canada, giving him 26 career points. It was a rematch of the 2018 Paralympic final, won on Farmer’s golden goal in overtime.

The Winter Paralympics feature 78 medal events across six sports — Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, snowboarding, hockey and curling — with more than 600 athletes expected to compete from around the world, including 67 Americans.

In 2018, the U.S. topped the Winter Paralympic standings in total medals (36) and gold medals (13) for the first time since 1992.

ON HER TURF: Masters shares happiness, heartache ahead of Paralympics

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