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Oksana Masters: "The embodiment of the Paralympics is 'Stronger Together'"

After winning her second medal of the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, Masters spoke about what 'Stronger Together' means to her.

5 min By Ken Browne
Oksana Masters of Team United States crosses the finish line in the Women's Sprint Sitting Paralympic Para Biathlon during Day One of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics at Zhangjiakou National Biathlon Centre on March 05, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Zhe Ji/Getty Images)
(Picture by 2022 Getty Images)

Oksana Masters followed up an opening day gold in biathlon with silver in the para cross-country skiing long distance (15km) race on Sunday (6 March).

The Ukrainian-born American now has a total of 12 Paralympic medals in disciplines - nine in Winter Paralympics and three in rowing and cycling in Summer Paralympics.

After her latest success, she reflected on what 'Stronger Together' means to her:

"Oh my gosh. It's the whole... The embodiment of the Paralympics is 'Stronger Together'," she said.

"On your own, you can go so far. But you can go farther with the team behind you. And when you are working together and when all the competitors are using each other, you're pushing each other to be the best you and bring out the best you.

"It doesn't happen alone, and it's just, I think in general, just life is better together."

Having won medals at two events in Beijing already, she has a possible five more to come in biathlon and cross-country skiing events.

Oksana Masters claims silver in Beijing 2022 15km women's long distance sitting cross country skiing

A day after her 6k biathlon gold medal, Masters was back competing in the cross-country long distance sitting event.

She had to settle for silver this time with Yang Hongqiong taking gold and another Chinese skier, Li Panpan, collecting bronze.

Masters' teammate Kendall Gretsch, who took third in Saturday's biathlon, finished just off the podium in fourth.

Gold again proved elusive for Masters in this event after Sochi 2014 silver and PyeongChang 2018 bronze.

"I was trying to upgrade it from Sochi 2014 when I got a silver medal, I was chasing that gold medal," she said. "This is the one race that I was really looking forward to, but I'm so proud of myself.

"I raced this 100 per cent honest, clean and in the right space and I just did everything I could, and I am so happy to bring home a medal for Team USA."

Oksana Masters pushes hard at the Women's Long Distance Sitting Paralympic Para Cross-Country Skiing on Day 2 of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics at Zhangjiakou National Biathlon Centre on on March 6, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Fred Lee/Getty Images)
Oksana Masters pushes hard at the Women's Long Distance Sitting Paralympic Para Cross-Country Skiing on Day 2 of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics at Zhangjiakou National Biathlon Centre on on March 6, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Fred Lee/Getty Images) (2022 Getty Images)

"I think maybe I went a little too too reserved on the first few laps," Masters said post-race.

"And then you get to a certain point where you just don't have enough to gain, and the Chinese athletes are going to be very fresh because they did not race yesterday and they're very strong in the classes that they're in.

"I'm just so happy to have raced the best race that I could today."

Masters was full of praise for the host country's strong showing in the ski cross country on Day 2.

"All three Chinese girls (Yang, Li and fifth-placed Ma Jing) are very strong in their core and in their classification, so I knew that was going to be very challenging.

"I also knew that they did not race yesterday (in Para biathlon) and I did, so that also made it a really challenging race.

"It's great. This will elevate the sport in China for the future and it is exciting."

Masters spoke about the hosts' ability to show up at the Games and make it count, often with athletes who haven't competed on world stages before.

"No, that's the thing about China, that they're very surprising every time. You never see them until the Games. But they're very strong and they perform and know how to perform in the right races. They are great competitors."

Yang Hongqiong celebrates victory in the women's cross-country skiing sitting long distance
Yang Hongqiong celebrates victory in the women's cross-country skiing sitting long distance (2022 Getty Images)

Paralympic Friendship: "We help each other" - Oksana Masters

Competitors, rivals, friends: Masters says the lines are blurred at the Paralympics.

"I think there's a lot of different countries that are very like supportive of each other," she continues.

"And I think that's the thing about Paralympic athletes, maybe more so than Olympic athletes is that like we, we're learning things together and we're kind of helping each other when we discover something.

"Whether that's equipment wise or training wise, we just we help each other to help elevate the sport, elevate cross-country skiing, biathlon. And I think that's the beauty of it as a Paralympic athlete."

She reserved special praise for Gretsch who pushed her yet again.

"I have so much respect for Kendall. She's an incredible, incredible athlete - summer and winter.

"And she's an incredible biathlon cross-country skier, triathlete and I know she dug deep today and these were challenging conditions.

"I just I try to embody her and and the range and on the course because she's a fighter and I’m just really, really excited to have a teammate like her to push me."

Winner Oksana Masters (L) and runner-up Kendall Gretsch after the World Championship cross-country 15km sitting in Lillehammer in January 2022.
Winner Oksana Masters (L) and runner-up Kendall Gretsch after the World Championship cross-country 15km sitting in Lillehammer in January 2022. (2022 Getty Images)

Oksana Masters leading Team USA at Beijing 2022

Masters won the USA's first gold medal of these Paralympic Games on Day 1 and has now added silver to the pile. But how does she feel about leading the U.S. team?

"Oh my gosh, it feels absolutely amazing!" She beams. "I... I just can't honestly can't believe it. But I'm really, really excited for what's to come in the future this week and in coming weeks with Team USA.

"And hey, I feel like it's so weird to say I'm leading it because I'm only able to do this because of my team, because of the whole entire staff. I mean, I think I'm not leading it, the whole U.S. Nordic team is doing an incredible job."

And she's thrilled about the prospect of winning more medals in Beijing.

"I'm excited. I'm definitely hungry, so I'm definitely excited for the rest of the week because I've got some unfinished business."

Watch out, world.

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