Masters and Gretsch kick off para Nordic season with podium finishes

Oksana Masters at the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics
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It was only three months ago that Kendall Gretsch and Oksana Masters competed at the Tokyo Paralympics.

Both athletes returned home from Japan with their first ever gold medals from a summer Paralympics: Gretsch topped the triathlon podium (PTWC classification) in a thrilling sprint finish, while Masters won double gold in cycling’s road race and time trial (H5 classification).

With their victories in Tokyo, Gretsch and Masters became just the fifth and sixth American athletes, respectively, to win gold medals at both the summer and winter Paralympic Games.

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Now, with just three months until the start of the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympics, Masters and Gretsch appear poised to continue their success as U.S. para Nordic teammates.

At the first para Nordic World Cup of the season in Canmore, Alberta, Masters and Gretsch – who compete in the sitting classification – went 1-2 in the women’s cross-country skiing 5km sprint on Saturday. Masters won in a time of 14:34.5, 43.9 seconds ahead of Gretsch’s calculated finish time of 15.18.4.

In para Nordic skiing, there are three overall sport classes: sitting, standing, and visually impaired. Within those three classes, each athlete receive a percentage based on their specific disability – and that percentage is multiplied by their finish time to get their adjusted finish time. This helps ensure that an athlete’s success is based on their competitive abilities, rather than the degree of their disability.

On Sunday, Masters and Gretsch repeated their 1-2 podium finish in the women’s 7.5km event. Masters crossed the line in 21.25.4, while Gretsch wasn’t far behind (calculated time of 22:26.2). Russian athlete Natalia Kocherova also finished third in both the 5km and 7.5km races.

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Masters and Gretsch aren’t the only U.S. athletes looking to compete at two Paralympic Games in a six-month period.

Dani Aravich made her Paralympic track & field debut in Tokyo and is now aiming to compete as a Nordic skier in Beijing. At the Canmore World Cup, the 25-year-old finished 9th in the 5km sprint and 7th in the 10km (standing classification).

Masters’ longtime boyfriend, Aaron Pike, is also aiming to pull off the Paralympic double. And that’s not all: this fall, he also entered three of the six marathon majors, including Chicago and Boston on back-to-back days. In Canmore on Saturday, he finished seventh in the men’s 5km sprint (sitting classification).

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC