SOCHI, March 12 (R-Sport) – With the Sochi Paralympics barely half-finished, host nation Russia beat its record Winter Games medal haul Wednesday, claiming 11 of 18 medals on offer in the cross-country skiing 1km sprints.
Elsewhere, Canada’s Brian McKeever won his ninth career Paralympic gold medal and Russian-born US athlete Tatyana McFadden, a star of the Summer Paralympics as a wheelchair racer, claimed her first medal in winter sport.
In the Alpine events, Germany enjoyed a good day with two gold medals, while the Canadian and Russian wheelchair curling teams qualified for the semifinals.
Following the sprints, host nation Russia has a total medal haul of 47, nine more than its previous Winter Paralympic best from Vancouver 2010. Sixteen of those are gold medals, ensuring Russia leads the medal table, with second-placed Germany on six golds.
Russia has dominated cross-country skiing throughout the Paralympics to date and that was typified in the men’s standing sprint, where the six men in the final were all Russians.
Kirill Mikhaylov raced to victory in 3 minutes 53.5 seconds, beating 20km gold medalist Rushan Minnegulov by just 0.3 seconds. "I'm happy because this is a load off my mind. It was a Russian final and yes, it is hard to compete against my friends," Mikhaylov said.
Vladislav Lekomtsev, 19, finished third to win his third medal of the Games, following his victory in the 7.5km biathlon event and bronze in the 20km cross-country. Those three medals ensured Russia beat its Vancouver tally of 38 and its record of 13 gold medals from Turin 2006.
McKeever, 34, and his guide Graham Nishikawa dominated their rivals in the men’s visually impaired category, claiming his ninth career gold and second of the Sochi Paralympics after victory in the men’s 20km race two days before.
Despite colliding with his guide and falling, McKeever won in 3 minutes 59.6 seconds to beat Swedish youngster Sebastian Modin, 19, into second place by 1.8 seconds. The bronze medal went to Russia’s Oleg Ponomaryov, a further 3.6 seconds down.
"We didn't panic," McKeever said of the fall. "There was the instant F-bombs, but once we got up we realized we were still in the race."
Earlier, McFadden missed out on gold in the women’s sitting event by just 0.1 seconds but still celebrated wildly, while Norway’s Mariann Marthinsen claimed the gold in 2 minutes 45.6 seconds.
Germany’s Andrea Eskau finished 0.8 seconds further back in the bronze medal position, but she was disqualified for an apparent violation of the rules by interfering with another competitor's line. The medal passed to the fourth-place finisher, Russia's Marta Zainullina.
US medal hope Oksana Masters briefly led, but faded and finished fourth after Eskau's disqualification.
"It started at 10 a.m., so it felt like a marathon today. It's such a tough field and my only goal was to make it in the final," McFadden said of the lengthy qualifying process for the final. "I really did not expect to win a medal here."
Russian Paralympic star Roman Petushkov became the first athlete at the Sochi Paralympics with four gold medals after winning the sitting sprint race. The 36-year-old, who earlier won two biathlon races and the 15km skiing event, managed to overcome his younger compatriot Grigory Murygin by just 1.2 seconds, winning in a time of 2 minutes 29.4 seconds.
"Today I got really well fired up, because I want to bring my country lots and lots and lots of happiness," Petushkov told R-Sport. "And now I want to bring some more."
It is the second medal for the 19-year-old Murygin, who also took bronze in the 12.5km biathlon competition. The bronze went to Ukraine's Maksym Yarovyi, who added the medal to his silver in the 7.5km biathlon.
There was more success for Russia in the women’s standing sprint, where Anna Milenina took gold in a time of 4 minutes 26.9 seconds, winning by 4.5 seconds from Ukraine’s Iuliia Batenkova, with third place for Russian Alyona Kaufman, 0.3 seconds further back.
The women’s visually impaired final brought Russia yet another gold medal as Mikhalina Lysova claimed her third gold medal of the Games with her guide Alexei Ivanov, winning in a time of 4 minutes 11.5 seconds.
The silver went to Russian Elena Remizova, 5.6 seconds behind, with Ukrainian bronze medalist Oksana Shyshkova finishing 13.1 seconds back to stop a Russian podium sweep as host nation athlete Yulia Budaleeva trailed in fourth.
In cross-country sprints at the Paralympics, skiers with more severe disabilities are given head starts over their more mobile opponents.
In the Alpine events at Rosa Khutor, Germany came out on top, but not without controversy.
German 18-year-old Anna-Lena Forster won gold at her first Paralympics on Wednesday, skiing to victory in the women’s sitting slalom.
Forster led after the first run and held on to first place by 0.81 seconds despite dropping time on the second run to eventual silver medalist Kimberly Joines of Canada.
"It's incredible. I'm really happy about that," said Forster. "I couldn't believe it when I was at the finish and saw the No. 1 on the screen. I couldn't believe it because the run didn't feel good."
Her win is Germany’s second of the day in Alpine skiing after Andrea Rothfuss won gold in the standing slalom, and took Germany to six gold medals for the Games. The bronze in the sitting slalom went to Laurie Stephens of the United States, who finished four seconds off the pace.
However, after the event finished, it was announced that German skier Anna Schaffelhuber could be reinstated by the race jury after being disqualified from the first run for missing a gate. In the second run, Schaffelhuber skied an apparently unofficial run before the other athletes, which could conceivably give her an overall time should her appeal against the disqualification succeed. A decision is expected Thursday.
In the standing slalom, Rothfuss, 24, had a solid 2.45 second lead after the first run and avoided mistakes in the second to claim her first Paralympic gold by the vast margin of 6.85 seconds, adding it to five medals from the Turin and Vancouver Games.
"When I crossed the finish line, I knew I'd made it," said Rothfuss, who was born without a left hand. "It's a huge relief after the last couple of days. They were very hard on me."
Russia's Inga Medvedeva claimed her second silver of the Games after she also came second in the downhill competition on Saturday.
"Today was not my day and today I didn't expect a medal," said Medvedeva. "My leg hurts very much and the only thing I wanted was to finish the race."
Petra Smarzova of Slovakia managed to fight her way from the fifth place to the podium on the second run, leaving Russia's Maria Papulova fourth.
Russian skier Alexandra Frantseva produced a quick second run to snatch slalom gold from Britain’s Jade Etherington in the visually impaired category.
Frantseva, 26, won in a time of 2 minutes 1.24 seconds after overtaking Etherington on the second run, posting a winning margin of 0.65 seconds.
Frantseva, from Russia's Far East, had trailed Etherington by 0.55 seconds after the first run at Rosa Khutor but her second attempt of 59.82 seconds was a full 1.20 seconds faster than the Briton’s.
For the Russian and her guide Pavel Zabotin, it was third time lucky after they won bronze in Saturday’s downhill and silver in Monday’s super G. Etherington collects her third medal of the Games to go with downhill silver and super G bronze.
The bronze medal in the slalom went to Slovakian skier Henrieta Farkasova, who finished 1.70 seconds behind Frantseva.
Russia and Canada secured places in the semifinals of the wheelchair curling after winning their morning session games.
In a repeat of the Vancouver 2010 final, Jim Armstrong's Canada beat South Korea 10-4 to move to a 6-1 win-loss record for the tournament, enough to guarantee the Canadians a place in Saturday's semifinals.
In the meantime, the host team Russia went to the top of the table after demolishing Britain 11-2 and edging out Norway 6-5. Andrei Smirnov's team has seven wins and one defeat.
Russia's coach Anton Batugin told R-Sport: “From a psychological point of view, the Brits weren't in the best shape after their defeat to Finland [13-4 on Tuesday].”
Despite two heavy defeats in a row, Britain remains third, along with Slovakia, which managed to end its three-game losing streak with an 11-4 pounding of Norway.
On Thursday, the only gold medals on offer are in three men's slalom events, while hockey semifinals take center stage for much of the day. Russia takes on Norway and reigning champion the United States faces Canada. Curling preliminaries conclude.
Germany is second behind Russia in the medal table, with Ukraine third on three gold medals ahead of Austria, Canada and Japan.