The crowd erupted when Kurt Oatway’s time appeared.
Ranked 12th in the World Cup and finishing eighth in yesterday’s downhill, the Canadian stunned the watching fans by collecting a surprise gold in the super-G competition at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre on Sunday (11 March).
Pumping his fist while facing the Canadian support in the stands, Oatway knocked leader and freshly crowned Paralympic downhill champion Andrew Kurka off the podium by an outstanding 1.06 seconds. Kurka held onto the silver position, and France’s Frederic Francois took the bronze for his first Paralympic medal.
"Reflection is crystal or in this case gold,” said two-time Paralympian Oatway, a former able-bodied skier who was inspired to return to the sport after watching Vancouver 2010.
"It's definitely my new number one. My previous number one was my crystal globe back in 2015-16 for downhill but the Paralympics are once every four years, it's the big show. It's what everybody trains for and comes out for."
The men’s sitting was the final category of the day, and it proved to be a thriller. Favourite Kurka chased Francois for the majority of his run. While he made up ground by the third split time, the US skier’s winning chances seemed slim, particularly when he went far wide around the last gate and almost lost his balance. Despite that, he managed to cross the line a tenth of a second quicker than the Frenchman.
But Kurka’s mistakes were costly, and the flawless skiing of 34-year-old Oatway, especially in the tricky lower portion of the super-G course, was enough to land his first major title.
"I learned a lot from it,” Kurka said. “I still needed to stick a line. I stuck it the middle portion. If I (had) stuck it in the top and stuck it the bottom, I have no doubt I'd have a gold medal right now. You know what, you can't win them all.”
The Jeongseon landscape was bathed in glorious sunshine, but the beautiful weather meant tricky conditions for the skiers as the snow became softer.
Switzerland’s Theo Gmur had two near falls around the last few gates, with his hip grazing the snow. But the 21-year-old Paralympic debutant impressively stayed on course to clock 1:24.83 and bump French teenager Arthur Bauchet to silver by 1.81 seconds in the men’s standing.
“He is very surprising because he starts with downhill, the speed discipline last year, and he comes here, it’s the Paralympics and it’s just magic. I am so happy for him,” Bauchet said.
The Swiss sensation is now owner of two Paralympic titles, adding to his downhill accolade. Defending Paralympic and world champion Markus Salcher from Austria rounded off the podium.
First gold as new father
Slovakia’s Jakub Krako celebrated his first Paralympic gold as a father when he won the men’s vision impaired with guide Branislav Brozman.
The defending Paralympic super-G champion welcomed his newborn son six days ago and adds to the silver he took in Saturday’s downhill.
"Having a silver medal in the room meant I was thinking, 'It doesn't matter how this finishes'. It was mega fun. I gave my maximum,” Krako said.
Gold-medal favourite Mac Marcoux and guide Jack Leitch suffered disappointment when Marcoux went too wide and missed the last gate, leading to disqualification.
Italy’s Giacomo Bertagnolli, with guide Fabrizio Casal, and Slovakia’s Miroslav Haraus and his guide Maros Hudik, took second and third, respectively.
Germany’s Anna Schaffelhuber and Slovakia’s Henrieta Farkasova collected their seventh Paralympic golds after winning their respective super-G races.
For Schaffelhuber, the gold was her second consecutive Paralympic victory after going five-for-five at Sochi 2014. The 25-year-old’s main rival Claudia Loesch set the early time to beat at 1:35.71. The Austrian world champion had to wait on five more runs until Schaffelhuber’s descent, and the German showed more risk than her downhill run from yesterday. Holding only a 0.02-second lead in her second intermediate, Schaffelhuber hung tight around the final winding turn to knock Loesch off the gold-medal spot by 0.95 seconds to successfully stay two-for-two.
For Loesch, the silver made up for a disappointing start on Saturday, where she did not finish the downhill course. Japan’s Momoka Murakoa added the bronze medal to her downhill silver.
Farkasova, guided by Natalia Subrtova, also had a successive gold, winning the women’s vision impaired by nearly four seconds over Great Britain’s Millie Knight and guide Brett Wild. The Slovakian world champion filled the void from Sochi 2014, where she did not finish that race.
"She's an absolutely fantastic skier, she really is. In 10 years' time, if we’re as good as Henrieta and Natalia … wow!" Knight said.
For first-time Paralympian Menna Fitzpatrick, the bronze medal with guide Jennifer Kehoe was a refreshing rebound after nerves drew the 19-year-old teenager off course in the downhill.
Bochet barely holds on
It was close in the women’s standing, but Frenchwoman Marie Bochet was able to hold on for the super-G gold with a 1:32.83 time and can join the seventh-club in Tuesday’s super combined competition. Germany’s Andrea Rothfuss threatened Bochet’s results, clocking 0.31 seconds quicker by the third split. But navigating the lower portion of the course has been the challenge for skiers, and the German was off by a third of a second to finish runner-up again to Bochet in PyeongChang.
“It’s a crazy day, it’s not easy but I accept this,” Bochet said. “I was a little bit tired and… I think I need to take a day off to take care of me and be stronger because I’m not able to do my best ski today, but it’s a winning ski.”
Canada’s Alana Ramsay finished third after just missing the downhill podium.
The conclusion of super-G wraps up the speed races and will have a day off before competitions resume on Tuesday (13 March) with super combined across all categories.
Every competition can be watched live right here on the International Paralympic Committee’s website. Highlights of each day’s action will also be made available.