Christina Kouros, a junior at Cape Elizabeth High, made a memorable debut at the U.S. cross country ski championships Wednesday at Black Mountain.

After turning in the fastest female qualifying time in the 800-meter adaptive sit-ski sprint competition, Kouros won a silver medal by finishing a few feet behind 37-year-old Sarah Edwards in a championship finals heat of four women.

“I was surprised,” Kouros said by phone from Western Maine. “During practice the girls looked really fast. I guess I’m a lot different when I’m racing.”

Edwards, who grew up in East Texas but now lives in Winter Park, Colo., won gold and 20-year-old Mikayla Briere of Lincoln, N.H., claimed bronze on the second day of the championships, which run through Sunday and include two more days of adaptive racing and three more days of stand-up events.

“We’re excited about Christina, for sure,” said John Farra, the former Maine Winter Sports Center vice president who last summer took over as director of the U.S. Paralympic Nordic skiing high performance program. “Her future looks bright.”

In men’s competition Wednesday, three military veterans who are also members of the U.S. Paralympic team swept the top spots. Sean Halsted (Air Force) of Ephrata, Wash., won the gold medal ahead of top qualifier Dan Cnossen (Navy) of Topeka, Kan.

Andy Soule (Army) of Pearland, Texas, was fourth in qualifying but third in the championship heat.

In all, 10 men and four women competed in Wednesday’s adaptive races and Farra expects two more for this afternoon’s 10K (for men) and 5K (for women) adaptive races.

Today’s morning schedule also calls for a men’s 15K freestyle race to begin at 9 o’clock and a women’s 10K freestyle race to begin at 11.

Skiing for able-bodied skiers switches to classical technique Friday with a 20K mass start for women followed by a 30K mass start for men.

Wednesday’s adaptive races gave Farra a chance to see which skiers are capable of competing in a World Cup Paralympic event scheduled for late January and early February in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“It’s important for us to see them compete and see how they do against our best athletes,” Farra said. “This is essentially a final qualifier for the World Cup team.”

Kouros had planned on traveling to the event … to observe.

This week’s results may change her mind.

“I might still watch, but I might race,” she said. “It was nice to get silver (Wednesday). It also opens up more opportunities. Everyone was really shocked that I almost beat Sarah because she’s one of the tops in the U.S.”

Farra said there’s no limit on the number of Paralympians invited but “we have very specific written criteria for how close they need to be to our top athletes in order to qualify.”

The U.S. Paralympic Nordic team currently consists of Cnossen, Holsted, Soule and one woman, Kelly Underkofler of St. Paul, Minn. Underkofler is a stand-up skier and biathlete who was born missing the lower half of her left arm.

Kouros, born with only one leg, took up Nordic skiing last winter and competed for her high school team. She also raced in outdoor track and was the female wheelchair winner of August’s Beach to Beacon 10K road race on the streets of her hometown.

“It was exciting,” Kouros said of Wednesday’s homestretch of the sprint finals with Edwards. “We were battling for the track. It was really close.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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