Slovakian skier Henrieta Farkasova won the first gold medal of the Pyeongchang Paralympics Saturday and the USA clinched a hat-trick of victories as sporting action got under away at Games marked by a rapid inter-Korean thaw.
Medals were up for grabs in alpine skiing and biathlon. Russian athletes, competing under a neutral flag after a mass doping scandal, clinched two golds while France also won two.
The Paralympics opened Friday with a glittering ceremony that mixed spectacular light shows and fireworks with traditional Korean performances and modern pop music.
North Korea was in focus as the country’s first two athletes to ever compete at a Winter Paralympics paraded into the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium under their own country’s flag.
It was the latest stage of a detente on the Korean peninsula that began at last month’s Winter Olympics, and culminated with this week’s announcement that US President Donald Trump had agreed to meet the North’s leader Kim Jong Un.
Slovakia’s Farkasova was the first to take gold, skiing to victory in the women’s vision-impaired downhill category, accompanied by her guide Natalia Subrtova.
She completed the course at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre in 1min 29.72sec, beating second-placed Millie Knight of Britain and her guide Brett Wild by 0.86sec.
It was Farkasova’s sixth Paralympic gold, and she hailed her victory as “great, amazing”.
“Hopefully we can inspire through our achievements and (show) others to strive and do their best,” she said.
– USA strike gold –
The USA, who have the biggest team at the Paralympics with 69 athletes, got off to a good start, wining three golds, one silver and a bronze.
In the biathlon — which combines skiing and shooting — the Americans took gold and silver in the women’s sit ski, with Kendall Gretsch coming first and Oksana Masters second.
Gretsch said her victory was “pretty unexpected”.
“It’s my first Paralympics, first race, so it’s just a great way to kick off the week and hopefully (there’s) more to come,” she said.
American Daniel Cnossen, a former US Navy Seal, took gold in the men’s sit ski.
Andrew Kurka from Team USA won gold in the men’s sitting downhill skiing, with Japan’s Taiki Morii clinching silver.
In an echo of last month’s Winter Olympics, 30 Russian athletes are competing as neutrals after the country was banned over allegations of state-sponsored doping.
Russian biathletes Ekaterina Rumyantseva, competing in women’s standing, and Mikhalina Lysova, in the women’s vision-impaired category, both won gold on Saturday.
Marie Bochet and Benjamin Daviet clinched France’s first golds, in women’s standing downhill skiing and men’s standing biathlon respectively.
The North Korean athletes at the Games are two cross-country skiers, Kim Jong Hyon and Ma Yu Chol.
They had originally been expected to march alongside their South Korean counterparts at Friday’s opening but a row over how their “unification flag” should appear halted the plan.
But it is only a minor sticking point in the rapid Olympics-driven rapprochement between the North and South, who are still technically at war.
At last month’s Winter Olympics opening, athletes from the two Koreas marched together and Kim Jong Un’s sister attended the ceremony.