Perfect shooting propels Gretsch to second world title in Lillehammer

by Kristen Gowdy

Kendall Gretsch competes in the women's sitting middle-distance biathlon race in Lillehammer. 

LILLEHAMMER, Norway – Already a champion at the Lillehammer 2021 World Para Snow Sports Championships, two-time Paralympian Kendall Gretsch (Downers Grove, Illinois) wasted no time picking up her second gold medal of the competition, winning today’s women’s biathlon middle-distance sitting race in dominant fashion. Teammate and five-time Paralympian Oksana Masters (Louisville, Kentucky), who won silver in yesterday’s biathlon sprint, earned the bronze.

Gretsch was in a league of her own in Sunday’s race, utilizing a perfect shooting performance and posting a time of 38:16.1, which topped silver medalist Natalia Kocherova of the Russian Paralympic Committee by a factored time of nearly two and a half minutes. In the 10-kilometer competition, Gretsch led from the 4-kilometer marken route to her sixth world championship title. Gretsch now has racked up three championship titles in paratriathlon and three in Para Nordic skiing.

This is Gretsch’s second gold in two races in Lillehammer. She chose to skip yesterday’s biathlon sprint in favor of recovery.

“I wasn’t feeling the best yesterday, so was happy to come out today and be able to race well,” Gretsch said. “You never know what to expect in biathlon, so it was just about bringing the same focus that we do in practice, and just having that confidence in your shooting.”

Masters, meanwhile, overcame seven shooting penalties to take her second consecutive medal in Lillehammer. Masters rallied from difficulties in the range and surged on skis once again to edge fourth-place finisher Marta Zaynullina by a factored time of 31.8 seconds. The bronze is Masters’ 18th career world championships podium, and the 10-time Paralympic medalist has also accumulated six world cup medals for the year. 

Five-time Paralympian Aaron Pike (Park Rapids, Minnesota) rebounded from a ninth-place result yesterday to finish in the top-six in themen’s sitting race. A near-perfect shooting day helped Pike to a 36:10.1 finish. Pike has been a pillar of consistency this season, finishing in the top-10 in each of his races, including two biathlon bronze medals in the team’s season-opening world cup competition in Canmore, Alberta. 

Another dual-sport athlete, Pike is coming off of a sixth-place finish in the marathon at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 and a grueling autumn that saw him compete in the Chicago, Boston and London marathons alongside several of his Para track and field teammates.

“It’s fun for me,” Pike said of transitioning back to his winter sport. “I love the change of pace. I don’t think I’m a one-sport athlete, I love going from one sport to the next. I’ve been doing it for a while now and it’s just been about trusting the training. I was able to get on snow a little bit earlier this year since I skipped the New York Marathon. I was on snow at the end of October, which is the earliest I’ve been on snow, and I think that definitely helped.”

American Dan Cnossen (Topeka, Kansas) also had a strong shooting day in the men’s sitting classification, hitting all but one of his targets, and improved upon yesterday’s 14th-place biathlon sprint result, taking 11th in today’s 10km race. The Paralympic champion will look to build on his strong seventh-place finish in the first cross-country race of the competition in Tuesday’s 18km race.

Following the Team USA trend for the day, Dani Aravich (Boise, Idaho) snagged eighth in the women’s standing race, bettering her 10th-place finish from Saturday’s biathlonsprint. Aravich completed the course in 39:30.5 and hit 70 percent of her targets during the shooting sections.

Aravich, who competed for U.S. Paralympics Track & Field in Tokyo and for Butler University as a Division I cross-country runner, is making her first world championship appearance in any sport.

The team will recover tomorrow before returning to the snow on Jan. 18 for the long-distance cross-country skiing events, which will feature the return of Lillehammer medalists Jake Adicoff and Sydney Peterson, who snagged podium performances on day one of competition. All events will be streamed live on the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing Facebook Page. Follow U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily updates from Lillehammer.

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