U.S. Paralympics

U.S. Paralympics

Countdown to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games

By Jamie M. Blanchard | Oct. 23, 2012, 12 p.m. (ET)

Set your clock.

The countdown to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games is officially underway with Oct. 23, 2012, marking 500 days until the Games’ Opening Ceremony. The competition, set for March 7-16, 2014, is expected to draw 700 athletes from 45 countries.

"I'm very excited for what promises to be a landmark Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi,” said Sir Philip Craven, the president of the International Paralympic Committee. “Sports-wise they will be the biggest Games yet, with the inclusion of para-snowboard in the alpine skiing programme, however it is some of the work away from the sporting action that has left me most impressed.

"What the [Sochi 2014] Organizing Committee has done in creating a barrier-free environment in Sochi is fantastic and something that should act as a blueprint not just for the whole of Russia but for all other cities interested in staging the Paralympic Games.

“I visited the city earlier this year and was really impressed at what I saw. I believe the Games in Sochi will be unique due to the geographical locations but am confident that what is delivered there will continue the momentum the Paralympic Movement has enjoyed in recent years.”

Following the largest Games ever staged, with more than 4,200 competing at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Sochi figures to be bigger than the last Paralympic Winter Games, held March 12-21, 2010, in Vancouver, Canada. The 2010 Games featured 506 athletes from 44 nations competing in 64 medal events.

In Sochi, 72 medal events will be contested with 216 medals up for grabs in the sports of alpine skiing, biathlon, cross country skiing, sled hockey and wheelchair curling. New to the Paralympic Winter Games programme for 2014, snowboard cross will be contested as an alpine skiing discipline.

Prep for Sochi with these winter sport stats:

Alpine skiing

Alpine skiing events take place each day of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. The skiing competitions are held at Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort, which holds 18,000 spectators, while snowboarding will be held at Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard Park. The snowboard venue has a capacity of 8,000.

At the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, Team USA was represented by 24 athletes and three guides, who combined for 11 medals (three golds, five silvers and three bronzes). Alana Nichols of Farmington, N.M., led the overall Team USA medal haul with two golds, one silver and one bronze, a feat she hopes to accomplish again on the slopes of Sochi. Both Stephani Victor (Park City, Utah) and Danelle Umstead (Park City, Utah), with guide and husband Rob Umstead, are also hopefuls for 2014. Victor won three medals in Vancouver, and Umstead won two.

Team USA made the World Cup podium 39 times last season, with the United States capturing the overall Nations Cup. Nichols led the Americans with 10 World Cup medals while Stephens and Umstead won nine medals each. Tyler Walker (Franconia, N.H.) finished the season with four World Cup medals.

The event to watch in the lead-up to the Paralympic Winter Games is the IPC World Championships, Feb. 18-27, in La Molina, Spain. The World Cup Finals for alpine are March 7-12 in Sochi.

In the snowboard cross competition, Team USA looks to Evan Strong (Maui, Hawaii) among a talented group of male competitors. He’s won boardercross in the Winter X Games twice. Last February in France, he won the men’s standing title at the World Snowboard Federation Para-Snowboard World Championship.

Amy Purdy (Summit Co., Colo.), a leader among the American women, has held the world’s No. 1 ranking.

Biathlon

Two biathletes have established themselves as athletes to watch on the Road to Sochi. On the opening day of competition at the Vancouver Games, Andy Soule (Pearland, Texas), ret. Army, won the bronze medal in men's 2.4 km sitting pursuit, becoming the first American biathlete to medal in either the Olympic or the Paralympic Winter Games. He also placed fourth in the men’s 12.4 km, a placement he’d like to better in Sochi.

Last winter, in just his second season with the program, Navy Lieutenant Dan Cnossen (Jamestown, Mich.) was the top performer internationally for Team USA garnering multiple top-10 results in biathlon and cross country events. The Sochi Games would be his first.

Kelly Underkofler (St. Paul, Minn.), a three-time U.S. Paralympian who finished ninth in her Vancouver events, also has her eyes on Sochi after being named to the 2012-13 U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Team.

The 2012-13 Nordic season includes the IPC World Championships and the World Cup circuit. The World Cup finishes with test event in Sochi at the site of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. At the 2014 Games, biathletes will compete March 7-12, at the Biathlon and Ski Complex, a venue for 16,000 spectators.

Cross country skiing

Following three Top 10 finishes in Vancouver, Sean Halsted (Spokane, Wash./Twin Lakes, Idaho), retired U.S. Air Force, is still in the mix for Sochi, as he recently secured a spot on the 2012-13 U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Team. Halsted competed on the World Cup circuit last season.

Other athletes to watch include Soule, who competed in three cross country races in Vancouver, and newcomers Eric Frazier (Maple Hill, N.C.), ret. U.S. Marines, and Jeremy Wagner (Honolulu, Hawaii), ret. U.S. Army, both who have yet to make a U.S. Paralympic Team.

Underkofler placed in the Top 10 in two cross country races in Vancouver.

Athletes will compete at the World Championship and on the World Cup circuit this season.

In Sochi, cross country skiing will take place each day of the Games at the Biathlon and Ski Complex.

Sled hockey

In Sochi, sled hockey games will take place March 7-15, 2014, at the 7,000 seat Shayba Arena.

On the Road to Sochi, the U.S. sled hockey team will be led by defenseman Taylor Chace (Hampton Falls, N.H.), goalkeeper Steve Cash (Overland, Mo.) and forward Alexi Salamone (Grand Island, N.Y.), all three of whom made the All-Tournament Team when the United States won gold at the 2012 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships in Hamar, Norway, in April.

With Team USA’s 5-1 defeat of Korea at worlds, which marked a second consecutive world title win for Team USA, the United States has now finished first at the last three major international tournaments. The team also captured the gold at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.

Cash, a member of the team since 2005, played a vital role in the most recent worlds, notching a 92 save percentage for the winners. Salamone and Taylor Lipsett (Mesquite, Texas), also named to this year’s squad, worked together to anchor a powerful front line, as the pair recorded eight goals and six assists in Hamar.

In what will prove as a preview to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, Team USA will attempt to defend their world title at the 2013 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships in Goyang City, Korea. The competition is April 12-20, 2013.

Wheelchair curling

Team USA narrowly missed a medal in the wheelchair curling competition of the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, finishing fourth overall. A good test of how the team might fare in 2014 comes Feb. 16-23, 2013, in Sochi at the 2013 World Wheelchair Curling Championship.

Following a three day tryout competition that wrapped up Oct. 21 in Madison, Wis., 2010 U.S. Paralympians Jimmy Joseph (New Hartford, N.Y.) and Patrick McDonald (Madison, Wis.) made the cut for the world team along with  Penny Greely (Green Bay, Wis.), Meghan Lino (East Falmouth, Mass.) and David Palmer (Mashpee, Mass.). While Greely was on the past two world teams and Palmer competed for Team USA in 2012, 28-year-old Lino is making her debut with the national team.

Members of the 2013 world team will be given top consideration to be nominated by USA Curling to the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team. The five person roster for the Paralympic Winter Games will be named in December 2013.

Team USA finished fifth at last year's world event.

At the 2014 Games, wheelchair curling takes place March 7-15 in the Olympic Curling Centre, a venue of 3,000. 

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