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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – On a historic day for snowboarding at the Paralympics, U.S. rider Evan Strong won the men's snowboard cross competition, leading an American sweep of the medals.

Strong, 27, a longtime California resident who was injured in a motorcycle accident 10 years ago, claimed the first gold medal for the U.S. at the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games.

"I'm ecstatic, I'm over the moon, I don't even feel like my feet are on the ground right now," Strong said after his victory at the Rosa Khutor resort in the mountains above Sochi.

Michael Shea finished runner-up to his training partner and friend, while Keith Gabel took bronze. The trio of American riders are each single leg below the knee amputees.

"We're all best friends on the U.S. Snowboard team," Strong said. "We all encourage each other, we want everyone to ride better and faster because we're in love with our sport.

"We're celebrating life through snowboarding and to be able to share it with the world through the Paralympics - that's just the icing on top."

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The entertaining snowboard cross event, making its Paralympic debut, involved riders taking three runs down a 140-meter vertical drop course packed with sweeping turns, numerous rolls and a thrilling finish jump. Each rider had his fastest two runs count toward the final standings.

"This course is super fun, you can generate lots of speed, but it's extremely challenging and very stressful," Strong said of the Rosa Khutor piste, that varied from "bulletproof hard snow" to "slurpy, soft and slushy" between the morning and afternoon runs.

"To be able to pull this off is just a testimony to the United States training, our coaches and everything that we've been working on all year long," Strong said of the medals sweep.

"To be part of a clean sweep, what an honor," said Gabel, a Utah native who moved to Winter Park, Colo., to train at the National Sports Center for the Disabled with his teammates. "A serendipitous moment would be a good way to sum it up."

It was a dramatic, tight and pressure-filled competition between the U.S. riders, particularly Strong and Shea, who advised that they rode up the chairlift together after each run, despite battling for victory.

Shea set the pace in the first run, clocking 52.29 seconds, but Strong overtook him by 0.01 following each of their second runs.

In the third and final run, Shea was unable to steal the lead back, sliding off his edge and falling about two-thirds of the way down the tricky course.

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"There were some nerves there, and I just knew that I was going to let it all hang out because if I didn't I would regret it later, Shea said about his third run. "My fall at the end was just me going 110%."

Strong proceeded to lay down his second fastest run of the day, taking victory by 0.57 seconds over Shea with a two-run combined time of 1:43.61.

Shea said he hopes the historic day for the sport and positive U.S. results will motivate others.

"I really just hope that it brings awareness for people with disabilities who are looking to do our sport. For the longest time we were told we had to do alpine skiing" said Shea, who was injured while wakeboarding in a boating accident. "If you're an amputee or have cerebral palsy, you can now choose to snowboard."

In the women's snowboard cross event, Amy Purdy raced to a bronze medal. After receiving her medal on Friday evening, the popular snowboarder will jet to Los Angeles on Saturday morning to compete next week on Dancing with the Stars.

In between snowboard training this week in Russia, she has also been practicing her dance moves with partner Derek Hough, who made the trip to Sochi, but has since returned to the U.S.

Purdy, a double amputee, said she hopes to inspire a young generation of snowboarders with impairments.

"Hopefully, other people see us out here riding and having a good time and want to get involved so we can grow this sport," Purdy said. "For me, I just love snowboarding so much, being able to share it with friends or anyone else is really a big part of my life."

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