Oksana Masters, still a ‘baby’ in biathlon, poised for Paralympic gold

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Oksana Masters has two Paralympic medals in cross-country skiing, but has spent the past year and a half setting herself up for biathlon gold.

Masters placed fourth and eighth in two biathlon events at the Sochi Paralympics, though finished first, third and fourth at the most recent world championships. She also won rowing bronze in London 2012 and competed in Rio as a cyclist.

“Biathlon has really been a long road,” Masters recently told media in PyeongChang. “Our team did an amazing job, letting us be at an indoor range to just lie there shooting. This whole winter and last winter has been geared around biathlon.

“My goal for these Games is definitely a higher goal than I’ve ever had before. I’m chasing that gold medal. I feel like I’ve locked down the silver and bronze. I would love to win a gold medal.”

She would be Team USA’s first cross-country or biathlon Paralympic gold medalist.

Part of her recent biathlon success includes her new coach, Gary Colliander. She also now uses a custom-made rifle that allows her to shoot despite being born without thumbs or muscles in her fingers.

“Every single race that I get on the podium in biathlon, I’m shocked,” Masters said. “It’s just because it still doesn’t feel real. And it just feels like I’m still such a baby in it, I’ve still got so much learning to do and I know it’s only going to get better.”

She’s got one more new tool in her arsenal that she picked up shortly after Sochi: boyfriend Aaron Pike, another Nordic sit-skier on Team USA. The pair describe themselves as extremely competitive.

“We help each other out a lot,” Pike said. “She pushes me on my climbing parts. She can climb better than anybody I know, and then I’m usually helping her out a lot on all the turning and technical stuff because I feel like I’m up there with the best in the world as far as maneuvering and turning on snow.

“We get more competitive over silly board games than we do skiing because we know how much work the other has put in. But we can play ping-pong, or we’ll play Monopoly or card games, then it gets pretty heated. It’s funny how fired up the two of us will get over simple games.”

Pike competed in track and field at both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games, plus cross-country and biathlon events in Sochi 2014. Pike is going for his first Paralympic medal in PyeongChang.

“My heart rate goes up higher when I watch him race than when I’m actually racing myself. I’m so nervous,” Masters said.

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