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Team USA women gain Paralympic medals in skiing events

Melaine Schwartz of USA competes in the Women's Slalom 1st Run - Standing during day five of Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games day five of Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games
Melaine Schwartz of USA competes in the Women's Slalom 1st Run - Standing during day five of Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games day five of Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

Weather changed from warm sunshine to a foggy and snowy mountains in day five of the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Games bringing new challenges for the Paralympic athletes. For the downhill, low visibility hindered skier’s ability to see not more than a two gates ahead. In cross-country skiing, new snow created glide resistance requiring extra effort by the athletes.

Laurie Stephens of USA competes in the Women's Slalom - Sitting - during day five of Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Team USA gained 2 medals to their cache, complements of two women skiers. This brings the USA totals to 4 silver and 4 bronze. The medals were won by Tatyana McFadden for the 1 KM cross-country sprint and Laurie Stephens for the sitting slalom.

Tatyana McFadden’s lead the way to the finish line in the cross-country, but was challenged in the last sprint by Norway’s Mariann Marthinsen. The competition was ski tip to ski tip until Marthinsen just edged ahead by only 0.1 seconds, leaving McFadden with a silver medal. Russia’s Marta Zaynullina was third with a time of 2:46.6, and American Oksana Masters, also looking strong at just one second short of a bronze with time of 2:47.6.

McFadden is a seasoned summer Paralympian, competing in track and field and has won ten medals in the wheel chair competitions. This is her first winter Paralympics, but amazing she has medaled after only training for cross-country skiing a year ago. Her medal win today solidifies her place in the Winter Games.

The trip to Sochi, Russia for Tatyana also represents a family reunion. Tatyana was born in Russia with a birth defect of spina bifida (undeveloped spinal cord) that left her paralyzed below the waist. Her parents had to give her up for adaption. Unfazed, Tatayana amobized by learning to use her arms as legs by walking on her hands for the six years she spent at the orphanage. In 1994, Debbie McFadden, visited Tatyana’s orphanage during a business trip. Upon meeting Tatyana, she felt a connection and decided to adopt Tatyana and bring her to the United States. Debbie encouraged Tatyana to participate in sports, to help maintain her strength and keep healthy. Tatyana enjoyed the activity and pursued competitive sports, leading her to her first Paralympic games in 2004. Now in Sochi, Tatyana was re-united with her Russian family , who cheered her on along with her American parents.

The second medal for day five was won by Laurie Stephens as she continued her streak with a bronze in the women’s sitting slalom, adding to the downhill and super-G bronze medals that she already won. This gives Stephens life total of 7 medals. The win is welcome for Team USA, as teammates Alana Nicoles and Stephani Victor experienced crashes at the Super-G and sustained injuries preventing them from further competitions.

Stephens, born with spina bifida, but started skiing at age 12 and was racing by age 15. Her debut in the Winter Paralympics started at the 2006 Torino Paralympic Games. She also competes in swimming and wheel chair racing.

In the slalom ski visually impaired class Danelle Umstead and her guide Rob Umstead finished fourth, 7.65 seconds shy of third place. Heavy fog may have been a factor, as the athletes due use some of their visual capability to see their guide and gates. Danelle’s guide is her husband Rob, who made their debut at the first husband-wife team at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics. Also competing on Team USA in the visually impaired class was Staci Mannella with guide Kim Seevers who placed in sixth.

As the downhill competition continued, ruts formed around the course, increasing the difficultly. Team USA’s entry for the standing classification included Stephanie Jallen and Allison Jones, who could not finish due to on-course falls. That left the burden to Melanie Schwartz, who was able to finish at 10th place.

Tomorrow, March 13th, the men will compete in all classifications of the ski slalom.

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