Fitness

Oksana Masters Is One Medal Away From Winter Paralympic Games History

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As one of the most well-known Paralympians from Team USA, Oksana Masters is well on her way to etching her name in history: Her gold medal performance in the women’s individual sitting 12.5K biathlon in Beijing on March 11 put her one medal away from tying the record for the most hardware ever for an American Paralaympian at the Winter Games, according to NBC Sports.

Her first-place finish in the event marked her fifth medal at the 2022 Winter Games among biathlon and cross-country skiing events. That makes 12 total Winter Games medals for the athlete, which means the overall record of 13—shared by skiers Sarah Billmeier and Sarah Will—is right within Masters’s reach.

Masters’s gold in the 12.5K sitting biathlon—her second gold in biathlon this Games—also marked the third time this week that she and Team USA teammate Kendall Gretsch (who finished second in the race) shared the podium. In the sprint biathlon during the first day of competition, Masters won gold while Gretsch earned bronze. Just a few days later, Gretsch won gold in the 10K sitting biathlon and Masters took home silver. According to Team USA, the two athletes have combined for more than half of Team USA’s medal haul so far in Beijing.

“I was just trying to channel my inner Kendall,” Masters said to NBC Sports after the latest race. “She was just digging so deep.”

Both Masters and Gretsch entered the Winter Games following a unique situation—a quicker-than-usual turnaround time of only six months after the conclusion of the Summer Games in Tokyo, which were delayed a year due to COVID-19. Both athletes earned golds in their Summer Games events and followed them up with first-place finishes in their snow sports.

“That transition is not smooth, not cute, and not pretty,” Masters told SELF in her February digital cover story. “You’re, in theory, as fit as you can be for the summer sport, and then you go into your winter season sport. It’s as if you never worked out in your entire life.”

Along with the training challenges that come with preparing for one Paralympic Games right after another, the Beijing Games also came with an emotional one as well for Masters: The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has weighed heavily on the athlete, who was born in the country and grew up in the U.S.

“It hurts my heart and it’s very hard to race 100%,” Masters told NBC Sports after winning silver in the women’s cross-country sprint sitting classification on March 9. “That’s why I just dug deep today, not just for Team USA, but also for Ukraine, where I am from.”

Masters potentially has two more medal opportunities left in Beijing—she’s slated to race the 7.5K cross-country skiing event on Saturday, and may possibly compete in the relay on Sunday. According to NBC Sports, if she medals in both of those events, she’ll break the record for most medals for an American at a single Winter Games.

When she goes into the events, though, she won’t just be racing for a medal.

“I will be racing for more than just my own goals, more than a spot on the podium. Every pole stroke, I will be racing for the families and kids in Ukraine with disabilities,” she wrote on Instagram before the games. “While the Ukrainian people are fighting for their homes and peace, I want to make every start line and finish line mean something much bigger than a race or a result. I want to help make sure no child is forgotten.”

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