Oksana Masters concluded the 2022 Winter Paralympics just like she started them: by winning gold.
The gold medal marks Masters’ seventh medal in her seventh start in Beijing, making her the first American to win seven medals at a single Winter Paralympics. The 32-year-old will leave Beijing as the most decorated athlete from these 2022 Winter Paralympics, as well as the most decorated U.S. Winter Paralympian of all time.
Masters joined fellow Team USA athletes Sydney Peterson, Dan Cnossen, and Jake Adicoff (with guide Sam Wood) to win the cross-country skiing’s mixed 4×2.5km relay in Beijing.
The U.S. was in fourth at the final exchange, with Adicoff serving as anchor.
“We knew that we were going to come into that last leg with a bit of a deficit to make up, that’s just how the team is set up, but we thought it was going to be much larger and to get that 35-second back split we were just excited,” Adicoff said.
“The team worked so hard to make that as short as possible so that we would have easy work out there today.”
China crossed the finish line 26 seconds later to claim silver, while Canada won the bronze, finishing just over a minute behind the United States.
With her 14th winter medal, she becomes the most decorated U.S. Winter Paralympian of all time. The previous record holders were Sarah Will and Sarah Billmeier, both of whom won 13 Paralympic medals in alpine skiing. Masters also owns three medals from the Summer Paralympics (one in rowing, two in cycling), bringing her total career count to 17.
With seven medals in Beijing, Masters won more medals than 37 of the 46 nations competing at the 2022 Winter Paralympics. She is also responsible for about one-third of the U.S. team’s 20 total medals.
Masters was born in Ukraine with a set of birth defects believed to be caused by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. She bounced between orphanages for seven years until she was adopted by her mother, Gay Masters, and moved to the United States. Masters later had both legs amputated, her left at age 9 and the right at 14.
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine intensifying, Masters entered these Winter Paralympics with her birth country on her mind.
“It breaks my heart because half of my heart is Ukrainian,” she told On Her Turf earlier this week. “I feel so selfish, to be honest… I get to go home. I get to go home to my home country, to my mom, to my bed, to safety and peace, and they (the Ukrainian athletes) don’t.”
After the relay win, Masters declined to stop for an interview with NBC.
In Saturday’s cross-country middle distance race, after she claimed silver behind China’s Yang Hongqiong, Masters could be heard in the finish area saying she wanted to race against “honest people.”
She expressed a similar sentiment in an interview after claiming silver in the sprint on Wednesday, saying, “I get to rest my head at night proud of my silver medal, honest, pure and clean, and I’m just so happy.”
Yang, who claimed three gold medals in Beijing, has only raced outside of China once in her career: at a Europa Cup event in Finland in December, according to World Para Nordic Skiing’s results database. Yang had also never finished better than third prior to these Beijing Paralympics.
Yang’s success is part of a larger trend. Entering these 2022 Winter Paralympics, China had only ever won one medal at the Winter Paralympics: a gold in wheelchair curling in 2018. In Beijing, China topped the medal standings with 61 medals (twice as many as second-ranked Ukraine).
In an interview last Sunday with On Her Turf, Masters said she wasn’t surprised by China’s success after two days of competition. “They have a history – from rowing and cycling and everything else – of never showing up until a month before the Games – or the Games – and that’s it. There’s some athletes who were there in PyeongChang, but they’re not the ones that are now here, dominating.”
Oksana Masters’ Results from the 2022 Winter Paralympics (Sitting Classification):
- Day 1 – Biathlon 6km sprint: Gold
- Day 2 – Cross-country skiing 12km long distance: Silver
- Day 4 – Biathlon 10km middle distance: Silver
- Day 5 – Cross-country skiing sprint: Silver
- Day 7 – Biathlon 12.5km individual: Gold
- Day 8 – Cross-country skiing 7.5km middle distance: Silver
- Day 9 – Cross-country skiing mixed relay: Gold
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC