PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – Gurimu Narita won bronze in the snowboard cross LL2 classification at the Pyeongchang Winter Games on Monday in his Paralympic debut.
The 24-year-old outran rival Evan Strong of the United States in the head-to-head race for third at Jeongseon Alpine Centre, after being knocked out in the semifinal by American Gabel Keith who won silver.
Matti Suur-Hamari of Finland took the gold for his first Paralympic medal.
Narita, whose left leg is paralyzed below the knee, said winning a medal at the Paralympics held a special meaning.
“I’m thrilled, simply put. I didn’t think it would be any different from any other competition, but it really was. Watching other people’s races, you don’t see the same level of excitement and the cheers at the finish line at your typical race.”
The Osaka native will be looking to win his first gold medal in Friday’s banked slalom competition.
Clearing qualifying with the fastest time trial, Narita easily won his first two head-to-head races to advance to the semifinals against Sochi bronze medalist Keith.
Starting out in the lead, Narita slid out during a turn and allowed Keith to glide comfortably to the finish line.
A technical glitch earlier in the day may have played a role in the day’s results. A malfunction in the starting gate halted competition for close to an hour before being deemed unfixable and replaced by a race official holding rubber bands.
Narita said the delay coupled with the warm weather allowed the snow to melt and changed the course conditions, though he refused to blame the hiccup for his semifinal loss.
“The conditions were the same for everyone and it didn’t really bother me,” he said. “The thing it did change is that the course conditions changed and I couldn’t adjust.”
In the snowboard cross LL1 classification, Japan’s Daichi Oguri lost in the semifinal against the Netherlands’ Chris Vos, who took silver, while Atsushi Yamamoto was knocked out in the round of 16.
American Mike Schultz won the gold.
Earlier in the day, cross country skier Taiki Kawayoke settled for ninth in the 20 km freestyle event’s standing category won by Ukraine’s Ihor Reptyukh.
Seventeen-year-old Paralympic debutant Kawayoke finished at a disability-factored time of 50 minutes, 59.8 seconds at Alpensia Biathlon Centre. Reptyukh, who also took bronze in the 7.5 km-biathlon event earlier in the games, cruised to victory in 44:52.4.
Frenchman Benjamin Daviet was 2:08 behind for silver, and Norway’s Hakon Olsrud settled for bronze.
Kawayoke said the race did not turn out to be what he had hoped for.
“I couldn’t find my rhythm in the first half, so I think that explains my result. I was able to speed up in the second half, but it would have been better to accelerate when I had more stamina in the beginning,” Kawayoke said.
“I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so nervous,” Kawayoke continued. “Everyone has been cheering for me, so I’m glad that I had the chance to compete here.”
Also in the sport, Momoko Dekijima finished seventh in the standing category of the women’s 15-km freestyle event. Ekaterina Rumyantseva and Anna Milenina, who are competing as Neutral Paralympic Athletes, finished with gold and silver, respectively.