PyeongChang 2018: Opening day worth the four year wait
Fifteen countries take home medals in alpine skiing and biathlon10 Mar 2018
Four years of waiting for the Paralympic Winter Games could not have been better rewarded. The opening day of competition was full of extraordinary performances and emotional moments from experienced athletes and first-time Paralympians in PyeongChang on Saturday (10 March).
Fifteen countries won medals on day one. The USA tops the medal standings following a successful morning at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre with two historic gold medals within the space of an hour. The first two biathlon golds for the country in either Paralympic or Olympic Winter Games.
On her Games debut Kendal Gretsch won the women’s 6km sitting in an American one-two finish with Oksana Masters. Then former US Navy Seal Daniel Cnossen took gold in the men’s 7.5km sitting.
USA’s third gold came at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre with Andrew Kurka in the final downhill of the day, the men’s sitting. It was a long four year wait for him after a broken back in the first training run at Sochi 2014 ruled him out of those Games.
"I woudn't change Sochi, I wouldn't change anything that has happened throughout my life. It has all been learning experiences that have helped me to grow. It's been my journey to gold,” said Kurka.
“All the pain, all the anguish, all the doubt I have ever had, it's all worth it."
France and the Neutral Paralympic Athlete also had a successful first day with two gold medals and one silver apiece. Both Neutral Paralympic Athlete gold medals came in the women’s biathlon with Ekaterina Rumyantseva in the 6km standing and Mikhalina Lysova in the 6km vision impaired.
The French celebrated in the women’s downhill standing after Marie Bochet’s fifth Paralympic gold and also in the men’s 7.5km biathlon standing with Benjamin Daviet first ever gold.
After topped the podium five times in Sochi four years ago, Germany’s Anna Schaffelhuber said she knows she cannot expect to win every race in PyeongChang. But at least on day one, nobody was able to beat her in the Jeongseon Alpine Centre.
“I think I can [be beaten]. We have to be realistic, of course I won't win every race in the future, I am just a person,” said the German after the victory in the women’s downhill sitting.
"At the moment I don't feel any pressure. I did it once again, I showed that I was not only fast in Sochi, I was also fast in PyeongChang too.”
Canada, Slovakia, Switzerland and Ukraine also won a gold medal each on day one. For Belarus there was no gold but if felt so with husband and a wife taking medals in the first two biathlon sitting events.
After nervously watching Lidzia Hrafeyeva win the bronze medal in the women’s 6km in the Alpensia Biathlon Centre, Dzmitry Loban clinched silver in the men’s 7.5km.
Besides the husband and biggest fan, Loban is also her coach, team captain and the engineer who designed his wife’s custom-made sit-ski.
“I stayed in the sport because he was there. I always wanted to go everywhere with him, and then I started liking it. I was drawn into the sport,” said Hrafeyeva.
“There is no other one like it in the world, of this I am 100% sure."
There also was a lot of passion in Gangneung where the Korean fans made some noise for the great performance of the home team on its debut in the Para ice hockey tournament.
Korea beat Japan 4-1 to show that they can be the ones to upset favourites USA and Canada. Although the Canadians left no room for doubt with a 17-0 win over Sweden.
The opening game was also the tightest with Italy beating Norway 3-2 in the penalty-shot shootout after a 2-2 in regulation.
In wheelchair curling it is defending champions Canada who led the way on day one of the round robin competition with two wins from two. It was a comfortable opening for the Canadians, who followed up a 8-0 shutout of Switzerland with a 10-1 win over Norway.
There were wins for Great Britain, China and Slovakia too, while hosts South Korea also picked up a pair of wins, including a dramatic extra-end victory over the Neutral Paralympic Athlete delegation.
The Paralympic Winter Games continue on Sunday (11 March) with medal events in alpine skiing and cross-country skiing, as well as more pool matches in Para ice hockey and wheelchair curling.