Mar 02 Countdown to Sochi: Five days

By Jamie M. Blanchard | March 02, 2014, 9 a.m. (ET)

Just two weeks after Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games, the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games take place March 7-16 in Sochi, Russia, at the same venues as the Olympic Winter Games. The Paralympic Winter Games will feature seven disciplines of five sports, as recognized by the International Paralympic Committee, for a total of 72 medal events, including men's and women's standing snowboard cross, which will make its debut in Sochi as a part of the alpine skiing program. With five days until the Games, learn more about the five sports in the program.

Alpine skiing


Stephani Victor competes at the Vancouver 210 Paralympic Winter Games.

Alpine skiing was the most medal-rich American sport at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, as U.S. athletes reached the podium 11 times, earning three gold, five silver and three bronze medals. With the return of all five medalists, including two-time champion Alana Nichols, and the addition of men’s and women’s snowboard cross to the 2014 Paralympic program, both of which will have five U.S. competitors, Team USA could easily surpass the 2010 alpine medal count.

Alpine skiing is one of the most competitive Paralympic sports worldwide, having nearly 200 competitors in Vancouver. The sport features six disciplines: downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-G, super combined, and most recently snowboard cross. At the Games, snowboard is open only to athletes with a lower-limb impairment.

Other alpine skiing competition accommodates male and female athletes with a physical impairment such as spinal injury, cerebral palsy, amputation, les autres conditions and visual impairment. Athletes compete in three categories – sitting, standing or visually impaired – based on their functional ability. A results calculation system allows athletes with different levels of impairments, like varying levels of sight, to compete against each other fairly in the same category.

Skiers with a visual impairment are guided through the course by sighted guides using signals to indicate the course to follow. Other athletes use equipment that is adapted to their needs including mono-ski or orthopedic aids.

Biathlon

Andy Soule
Andy Soule, a U.S. Army veteran, competes at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.

On the opening day of the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, U.S. Army veteran Andy Soule became the first U.S. Olympian or Paralympian to win a biathlon medal at the Games. Heading into Sochi, he still remains the only U.S. athlete to win an Olympic or Paralympic medal in the sport, and hopes to add another.

Like alpine skiing, biathlon competition accommodates male and female athletes with a physical impairment such as spinal injury, cerebral palsy, amputation, les autres conditions and visual impairment. Athletes compete in three categories – sitting, standing or visually impaired – based on their functional ability.

The most important success factor for biathletes lies in their capability of alternating physical endurance skills, used for cross-country skiing, and accuracy, used for the shooting portion of the competition. Athletes receive a one minute penalty for each shot missed in long distance events, and must ski a 150 meter penalty loop for each miss in the sprint and middle distance events.

For athletes with visual impairments, there are acoustic signals, with varying signal intensity, which indicates when the athlete is on target. Biathletes can use sighted guides for the cross-country skiing portion of the event.

Cross-country skiing

Monica Bascio
Monica Bascio competes at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.

Team USA has not medaled in cross-country skiing at the Paralympic Winter Games since 2006 when Steven Cook, who is now retired, won three medals. But U.S. athletes including Oksana Masters, who won two bronze medals in cross-country skiing on the world cup circuit, hope to make it on the podium in Sochi.

Practiced in 24 countries, Paralympic cross-country skiing competition is open to athletes with a physical impairments and visual impairments, much like alpine skiing and biathlon. Men and women compete separately in three categories – sitting, standing or visually impaired – based on their functional ability.

Athletes compete in short distance, middle distance and long distance (ranging from 2.5-kilometers to 20km) and/or participate in a team relay using classical or free techniques.

Sled hockey

Taylor Chace
Taylor Chace competes at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.

Heading into the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, no sled hockey team has ever won consecutive Paralympic Games titles. Team USA hopes to change that, just like they became the first team to win consecutive world titles when they successfully defended their 2009 title in 2012.

Team USA’s toughest test on the road to Sochi came April 12-20, 2013, in Goyang City, Korea, when they played for a third straight world title. While Team USA has won the last three major championships awarded in sled hockey (2009 worlds, Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games and 2012 worlds) heading into the 2013 worlds, the Canadians won the 2013 world title.

In January 2014, Team USA beat Canada in a best of three series.

Although only male athletes were named to the 2014 roster for Team USA, sled hockey became a mixed competition at the Paralympic Winter Games for the first time in 2010. Teams that are mixed gender are allowed up to 18 players, while all-male squads are limited to 17.

The sport, which is open to athletes with a physical impairment, follows the rules of the International Ice Hockey Federation with modifications. Instead of skates, players use double-blade sledges that allow the puck to pass beneath. Players use two sticks, which have a spike-end for pushing and a blade-end for shooting.

Wheelchair curling


Patrick McDonald competes at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.

The United States has never medaled in wheelchair curling at the Paralympic Winter Games, but that all could change at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Russia. Team USA finished fourth at the World Wheelchair Curling Federation’s 2013 World Wheelchair Championship after a last-rock loss to China in the bronze-medal game at the Ice Cube Curling Center in Sochi, Russia.

The U.S. finished eighth of eight teams with a 2-7 record at the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games – where wheelchair curling made its debut. Team USA improved to fourth at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. In the bronze-medal match, the Americans lost 7-5 to Sweden.

Wheelchair curling is open to male and female athletes who have a physical disability in the lower half of their body, including spinal-cord injuries, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and double-leg amputation. Each five-member team at the Paralympic Winter Games must have one male and one female representative.

— International Paralympic Committee contributed to this report

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