SOCHI, March 9 (R-Sport) – The Sochi Paralympics saw a touching family reunion for a Russia-born U.S. star Sunday, while the host nation earned the first podium sweep in cross-country skiing.
Elsewhere, Ukraine shot to second in the medal table, two days after backing down on threats to boycott the Games, while Alpine skiers Akira Kano and Markus Salcher won their second gold medals.
Despite finishing only fifth in the women’s 12km cross-country skiing, McFadden was the focus of much of the attention given her remarkable life story.
Born in St. Petersburg, then the Soviet city of Leningrad, with severe spina bifida, McFadden was raised in an orphanage until being adopted by a former U.S. government official.
McFadden has become one of the greatest wheelchair racers in history with 10 Paralympic medals, and in time for her first Winter Games in Sochi, arranged for her adoptive mother Deborah, her birth mother and the director of her old orphanage to see her compete.
“It’s absolutely wonderful. I got to see them right before my race and so I think that gave me an extra energy, an extra boost and I just raced for my family today,” McFadden told R-Sport.
“When I was feeling tired, in pain and frustrated, I just had to almost close my eyes and just think about my family in the stands.”
The 12km sitting event was won by Ukraine’s Lyudmyla Pavlenko, taking her country to second in the medal table, ahead of Oksana Masters, a Ukraine-born athlete racing for the U.S., and Russia’s Svetlana Konovalova.
Earlier Sunday at the Laura Biathlon & Ski Complex in the mountains above Sochi, Russia earned the first podium sweep of the Games with a 1-2-3 finish in the men’s 15km sitting cross-country ski race.
Roman Petushkov won to claim his second gold medal in two days, ahead of compatriots Irek Zaripov and Alexander Davidovich. "I was trying to spread out my efforts carefully because the race is very long and it is important to cover it correctly from a psychological point of view," Petushkov told R-Sport.
On the Alpine ski slopes of Rosa Khutor, the men’s super G competitions yielded more success for Japan’s Kano and Austria’s Salcher, both of whom won gold in their categories a day after winning downhill.
Kano, who was paralysed when hit by a car while in junior school, dominated the field in the sitting category, winning by over two seconds from his compatriot Taiki Morii.
Salcher’s win in the standing category was a closer affair, the gap between him and fellow Austrian Matthias Lanzinger just 0.41 seconds. Under the gaze of Russian President Vladimir Putin, local prodigy Alexey Bugaev, 16, was faster than Salcher at the top of the slope, but made a mistake and settled for bronze, adding it to the silver he won in downhill.
In the visually impaired category, gold went to Slovakia’s Jakub Krako, with silver for the oldest Alpine skier at the Games, 55-year-old Mark Bathum of the United States.
In a battle between two former Paralympic sledge hockey champions, Canada pounded Norway 4-0 in Sochi on Sunday to secure a spot in the semifinals.
Adam Dixon registered a double, while Dominic Laroque and Marc Dorion added one goal each to bring Canada revenge for its defeat in the bronze medal game in Vancouver four years ago.
In Group B, reigning champion United States also booked a place in the seminal after netting three unanswered goals against South Korea.
Host nation Russia kept alive its hopes of reaching the semifinals with a 7-0 demolition of Italy that in part made up for Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Koreans.
The Russians must still beat the U.S. in their final group game Tuesday in order to reach the semifinals.
Slovakia's wheelchair curling team surprisingly stormed to the top of the Sochi Paralympics round robin table on the second day of the competition Sunday.
Radoslav Duris' team, who have never won a major medal, won both of their game games on Sunday, improving to a 3-0 record to share first place with reigning champion Canada, who defeated Sweden 7-4.
Russia retains a solid lead at the top of the medal table, with five gold medals, all of them coming in biathlon and cross-country so far.
Behind the host nation are five countries on two golds, led by second-placed Ukraine, with Japan, Austria, Slovakia and Germany following.
Monday sees four gold medals on offer in cross-country, with three more available in Alpine skiing, where there will be women’s super G competitions in the standing, sitting and visually impaired categories.
The hockey competition takes a break for a day, but curling preliminaries continue.
Over the nine days of competition in Sochi, a total of 72 gold medals will be awarded in five sports.