PyeongChang 2018: Momoka Muraoka out of the shadows

Alpine skier wins Japan’s first gold to eclipse favourites in giant slalom

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Momoka Muraoka not only won her first major gold but also Japan’s first gold medal at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, as giant slalom concluded on Wednesday (14 March) at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre.

The 21-year-old has spent her career in the shadows of Germany’s Anna Schaffelhuber and Austria’s Claudia Loesch in the women’s sitting category.

Wednesday was a different story.

Muraoka swerved swiftly by all 46 gates, and her 1:13.47 time was the one to chase.

The Japanese skier – who finished off the podium at Sochi 2014 and was third at the 2017 World Championships – remained untouchable. Her combined time was almost three seconds faster than second-place finisher and surprise medallist Linda van Impelen. The 32-year-old Dutch skier, in her Paralympic debut, impressed with her first Games medal. Defending world champion Loesch took bronze to go with her super-G silver.

“I’m so relieved to get a gold medal today,” Muraoka said. “Sometimes I wanted to quit skiing and do something that I wanted but I’m happy that I overcame everything and now I got a gold medal.”

It was a surprise to find Schaffelhuber, double-gold medallist in PyeongChang so far, far off the podium. The defending Paralympic champion shook her head in disappointment when she crossed the finish line.

"I don't know what happened today,” Schaffelhuber, 25, said. “I have never experienced a race like this. I thought I had two very good runs and I am not sure why I am so far behind. The first run I was very surprised I was so much behind. Even in the second, I thought it was a good run.”

Perfect Pedersen

At 18 years old, Jesper Pedersen carried high expectations heading into his first Paralympics after a breakthrough World Cup season. After bronze in the super combined and missing the podiums in the two speed events, the Norwegian finally backed up his overall crystal globe with his first Paralympic victory by winning the men’s sitting, and in comeback fashion.

"My second run was really good, it felt really fast,” he said. “I’m happy to get the gold today.”

"An insane amount of hard work this summer and autumn (with) the best coaches ever,” he added. “I train a lot of strength and cycling and I think I've done 50 days of skiing this summer, so a lot of skiing."

Pedersen anxiously waited for the USA’s Tyler Walker to make his descent, and it was not long after a smile crossed his face when seeing that his time stood .34 seconds faster. Poland’s two-time Paralympian Igor Sikorski claimed his first Paralympic medal with bronze, which was also Poland’s first medal in PyeongChang.

Favourite and reigning world champion Jeroen Kampschreur was disqualified after missing the final gate in his first run.

Back in form

After falling victims to a DNF-filled Tuesday, Switzerland’s Theo Gmur and France’s Marie Bochet were back on top in the men and women’s standing, respectively.

Both collected their third gold medals in PyeongChang.

While Bochet is no stranger to winning, the now-seven time Paralympic champion raised her arms in triumph when she completed her second run.

It was a celebration of relief, after missing a gate in Tuesday’s super combined and not getting to race for another gold. However the next day, she was back in dominant fashion to win by more than two seconds. Germany’s Andrea Rothfuss took her fourth silver in PyeongChang, and Canadian teenager Mollie Jepsen saw her third medal of the Games with the bronze.

"It is a very important gold medal,” Bochet said. “I needed to win today for my confidence, for the next stage of my career. I needed to win today because I proved I can come back after a big crash.

"I needed to prove to me and prove to others.”

In the men’s standing, Gmur collapsed in exhaustion after his final run. The 21-year-old continues to amaze in his Paralympic debut, as he knocked Neutral Paralympic Athlete and super combined champion Aleksei Bugaev down to silver.

Canada’s Alexis Guimond celebrated ecstatically when a frustrated Arthur Bauchet missed a gate not long into his second run. The French reigning world champion was sitting in second and gunning for his first Paralympic gold, but it was not meant to be. His DNF meant a first Paralympic medal for 19-year-old Guimond, who claimed giant slalom bronze at the 2017 Worlds.

Four for Farkasova

Make that four for Slovakia’s Henrieta Farkasova and her guide Natalia Subrtova. The pair remain unbeatable in the women’s vision impaired, smashing the giant slalom with more than a five-second victory. Great Britain’s Menna Fitzpatrick and guide Jennifer Kehoe took silver to go with the super-G bronze. Australia’s Melissa Perrine, guided by Christian Geiger, were third.

"Any of the girls could stop us but we will not back down, we will definitely fight for that fifth gold,” Farkasova said.

"You are not getting bored are you?"

Champion celebrations

In the men’s side, Italy’s Giacomo Bertagnolli finally added his first Paralympic gold. At 19 years old and with his guide Fabrizio Casal, the 2017 Worlds silver medallist dominated his category with the two fastest runs.

Bertagnolli was looking forward to the elebrations: “I like the course and now I just go to party because (I have) three medals (and) we didn’t expect it. So after anti-doping I have to go to some party with my friends because they are all there (and I am) so happy. I will (celebrate) with friends and all the people who helped me to reach this dream.”

And the Italian’s secret?

"I like pasta so I always eat pasta. And brownies. Brownies are very good."

Slovakia’s Jakub Krako and guide Branislav Brozman, and Canada’s Mac Marcoux with guide Jack Leitch, finished second and third, respectively.

Competition resumes with men’s slalom on Saturday (17 March)

Every competition can be watched live right here on the International Paralympic Committee’s website. Highlights of each day’s action will also be made available.

Tickets for PyeongChang 2018 can be purchased here.