The Paralympic Winter Games are March 7-16 in Sochi, Russia. With 96 medals up for grabs in 32 alpine skiing events, 298 athletes will compete including 38 (28 alpine skiers, 10 snowboarders) from the United States. Get ready for Sochi with this breakdown of the alpine skiing program:
In the downhill competition, scheduled for March 8, each athlete competes one run down the course with their finish time determining the final order based on ascending time. Athletes ski down a long, steep course and must pass through a relatively few number of gates. If an athlete misses a gate, they are disqualified from the competition. For weather, safety and other reasons, the jury can decide to have two-run downhill if the vertical drop does not comply.
The downhill competition for women’s sit skiers may be one of the most competitive of the Games. Alana Nichols won the event at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games with Laurie Stephens second and Stephani Victor fourth. Stephens goes into Sochi as the reigning world champion. She was the only American, male or female, to win a gold medal at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Championships.
The U.S. won multiple medals in downhill at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. In addition to Nichols and Stephens placing in women's sitting, Mark Bathum was second in men's visually impaired while Danelle Umstead was third in women's visually impaired.
The men will compete in slalom on March 13 with the women’s competition scheduled for March 14. For slalom, each athlete competes two runs on the same day on different courses. Times from the two runs are added together to determine the final order based on ascending total time. It is a technical event over a shorter course than other events but with a high number of gates that the athlete must navigate. If an athlete misses a gate in the slalom event, they are disqualified.
The women present the best opportunity for Team USA to medal in slalom. Following the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup in Copper Mountain, Colo., which concluded Jan. 20, Allison Jones is ranked No. 2 in the women’s standing slalom while Victor and Stephens are ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in the women’s sitting slalom. The only American man in the Top 10 is Tyler Walker, who holds the No. 8 spot in men’s sitting.
The men’s giant slalom competition is March 15 while the women compete March 16, the final day of the Paralympic Winter Games. For giant slalom, each athlete completes two runs on the same day on different courses. Times from the two runs are added together to determine the final order based on ascending total time. It is a technical event with a longer course and fewer gates than the slalom. The number of gates is determined by the vertical drop of the course. Athletes who miss a gate are disqualified.
Nichols won the giant slalom at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, beating silver medalist Victor, who is currently No. 2 in the world rankings. Nichols and Stephens, respectively, are ranked No. 5 and No. 6. Jones is ranked No. 4 in the women’s standing giant slalom, behind three athletes who share the top ranking.
On the men’s side, Walker and Heath Calhoun, the Army veteran who acted as the U.S. flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Games, are sixth and eighth in the world rankings. Chris Devlin-Young is No. 10. In the men’s visually impaired classification, Bathum is No. 8.
Super-G is a speed event where each athlete completes one run down the course with their finish time determining the final order based on ascending time. It will take place on March 9 for men and March 10 for women. Generally, the super-G course is shorter than downhill but longer than slalom and giant slalom.
The only super-G medal won by Team USA in Vancouver was Nichols’ silver. Nichols is ranked third in women’s sitting while Victor and Stephens are No. 4 and No. 5, respectively. Jones is ranked fourth in women’s standing and Umstead is fifth in women’s visually impaired.
On the men’s side, Bathum is ranked No. 2 in his classification. Walker is No. 3, Calhoun No. 5 and Andrew Kurka is No. 9 in the men’s sitting rankings.
Both the men’s and women’s super combined competition are March 11. As hinted at by the name, the super combined competition combines the final result of two disciplines, although the two disciplines vary from competition to competition. Super combined is usually one of either a downhill or super-G and a single run of slalom. Each athlete competes two runs on the same day on different courses. Times from the two runs are added together to determine the final order based on ascending total time.
Victor won a gold medal in super combined at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, the first time that it was contested in Paralympic competition, while Nichols claimed the bronze medal. Nichols, Stephens and Victor are now No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6, respectively, in the world standings heading into Sochi.
Snowboard cross, which is for men and women with lower limb impairments only, will debut in Sochi on March 14 as a part of the alpine skiing program. In Paralympic snowboard cross, each athlete competes three runs down the course with their finish time of their best two runs determining the final order based on ascending time. One rider competes on the course at a time, unlike at the Olympic Winter Games. The event takes place on a man-made course constructed from a variety of terrain features like bank turns and jumps.
The U.S. men could sweep the inaugural podium with Keith Gabel, Mike Shea and Evan Strong all in contention for the sport’s top prize. As of January 2013, both Gabel and Strong held the No. 1 world ranking while Shea, who has two world cup gold medals and a silver this season, was No. 1 in the world cup standings.
Amy Purdy and Heidi Jo Duce lead the women’s contingent for Team USA. After finishing behind Purdy in the international season, Duce beat Purdy 1:50.32 to 1:50.35 at the 2013 U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding National Championships, the first ever national championship for the sport. Purdy opened the 2013-14 season with a world cup silver while Duce has a silver medal and a bronze medal. Nicole Roundy, who came close to the world cup podium in January 2013, is ranked No. 5 in the world.
— International Paralympic Committee contributed to this report