Oksana Masters could have easily missed the Lillehammer 2021 World Para Snow Sports Championships after testing positive for COVID-19 on New Year’s Eve.
Instead, as soon as the tests came back negative, the USA sit-skier packed her bags and rushed to join the world’s best athletes on the starting line in Norway.
That effort has now yielded her career’s tenth world title.
“It feels incredible. It doesn’t feel like I am the one with 10 World Championship titles at all,” Masters said. “It’s been a long road and challenging road, but it’s just incredible to be able to bring this home for Team USA and hopefully this is a good start to the Beijing preparations.”
Masters missed the cross-country middle distance race in Lillehammer but arrived in time for the start of the biathlon events. While she struggled with the shooting component, Masters still managed to pick up a silver and a bronze.
On Tuesday she rounded off that set with a gold in the cross-country long distance.
“I definitely added on a lot of extra skiing to my biathlon because of all the misses, but I know my focus is cross-country skiing. I’m continuing to grow as a biathlete, trying to get the shooting down, but it feels so good to come out here today and just focus on skiing,” Masters said.
Fellow USA skier Kendall Gretsch took the silver and Belarus’ Valiantsina Shyts wrapped up the podium.
While Masters led for the duration of the race and arrived at the finish line first, as expected, there was plenty of last-minute drama in the men’s sitting event.
Italy’s Giuseppe Romele overtook the race leader, RPC’s Ivan Golubkov, to take the lead in the final three laps and looked certain to win. But in the final metres, he mistakenly started on an extra lap instead of going to the finish line.
The mistake cost him his career’s first world title and dropped him down to 13th place.
“It was a very intense race,” Romele said. “I felt really good, even though I did one extra lap. I tested what I needed to do before Beijing.”
Golubkov won the race to extend his winning streak at Lillehammer 2021 to four races. South Korea’s Shin Eui Hyun took the silver and RPC’s Danila Britik was third.
“Today was a very hard race. I lost all sight in the third lap. I couldn’t see anything and I was moving ahead blind,” Golubkov said.
“I am very sorry that Giuseppe made a mistake. He also deserves the gold medal,” he added.
The same fate almost befell RPC’s Vladislav Lekomtsev who also started on an extra lap until his coaches signalled for him to turn back.
The confusion cost Lekomtsev time, but his initial lead was big enough that he could still take the gold and lead an RPC sweep of the podium.
“This distance was not enough for me. I wanted a bit more,” Lekomtsev joked. “I really did think that I needed five laps, but it’s a good thing that the coaching staff was nearby. They stopped me in time and I could return to finish well.”
Silver medallist Rushan Minnegulov crossed the finish line 41.2 seconds behind Lekomtsev while Vitalii Malyshev took the bronze.
GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN
Ukraine’s Liudmyla Liashenko upset the home crowds to take the gold from Norway’s Vilde Nilsen in the final metres of the women’s standing race.
Her lead of 2.8 seconds was the tightest finish of the day.
The middle-distance champion Nilsen settled for silver while USA’s Sydney Peterson picked up a bronze.
It was also a tight race in the men’s vision impaired class.
RPC’s Oleg Ponomarev made a dazzling effort to move up from fourth place at the start of the race, crossing the finish line 6 seconds ahead of his teammate Stanislav Chokhlaev. The gold at Lillehammer 2021 is Ponomarev’s first world title at his third world championships.
USA’s Jake Adicoff, who won gold in the middle-distance race, finished with a bronze.
Belarus’ Sviatlana Sakhanenka broke RPC’s dominance in the women’s vision impaired events to claim the gold in the cross-country long distance.
RPC athletes got two consecutive sweeps in the earlier biathlon events. This time they took all places from second to sixth with Vera Khlyzova and Anna Panferova making it onto the podium.
The cross-country events at the Lillehammer 2021 World Championships continue with the sprint classic on Saturday, 22 January.
The World Para Snow Sports Championships action resumes on Wednesday with Para alpine skiing and the men's giant slalom races.
All Lillehammer 2021 events are streamed live on World Para Snow Sports Facebook https://www.facebook.com/parasnowsports/ and Para alpine skiing https://www.paralympic.org/alpine-skiing, Para Nordic skiing https://www.paralympic.org/nordic-skiing and Para snowboard https://www.paralympic.org/snowboard websites.
More information about the World Para Snow Sports Championships can be found on the Lillehammer 2021 page https://www.paralympic.org/lillehammer-2021.