Preview: Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games
The Paralympic flame is seen at the torch lighting at Rosa Khutor on March 5, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. The Paralympic Winter Games are March 7-16.
Just two weeks after Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games, the eyes of the world are back on Sochi, Russia, as it hosts the Paralympic Winter Games, March 7-16. The Paralympic Winter Games will feature 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 for athletes with a lower limb impairment, which will make its debut in Sochi as a part of the alpine skiing program.
The United States will compete in each of the five sports (alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, sled hockey and wheelchair curling) contested in Sochi with a team of 80 athletes. The largest U.S. contingent is alpine skiing, which has 30 athletes, while the smallest is the five-member 2014 U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Curling Team.
The U.S. sent 50 athletes to the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, winning four gold medals, five silver medals and four bronze medals, finishing fifth overall in the medal count. In 2010, Andy Soule (Pearland, Texas), a U.S. Army veteran, won a bronze medal in the men’s sitting 2.4-kilometer individual pursuit biathlon event, becoming the first U.S. biathlete to medal at an Olympic or Paralympic Winter Games. With his eyes set on gold in Sochi, he remains the only American ever to medal in biathlon.
Of the 50 athletes who competed in Vancouver, five were military athletes: alpine skier Heath Calhoun (Clarksville, Tenn.), ret., U.S. Army; Nordic skier Sean Halsted (Spokane, Wash./Twin Lakes, Idaho), ret., U.S. Air Force; wheelchair curler Patrick McDonald (Madison, Wis.), ret. U.S. Army; Soule; and alpine skier Chris Devlin-Young (Campton, N.H.), ret., U.S. Coast Guard. All five athletes made the Sochi team along with 13 other active duty military and veteran athletes.
Calhoun, who was injured in Iraq, was the U.S. flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony. This year, the honor of being the U.S. flag bearer goes to U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jon Lujan, an alpine skier.
NBC and NBCSN will combine to air over 50 hours of television coverage for the Games starting on March 7 with the Opening Ceremony live at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN. It will be followed by daily coverage of all five Paralympic sports in the Sochi program, before the Games’ Closing Ceremony is broadcast on March 16. In addition to the unprecedented U.S. television coverage, the USOC will provide live online coverage of every event at TeamUSA.org.
The 2014 Paralympic Winter Games coverage is made possible through the support of the broadcast and streaming sponsors BMW, BP, Citi, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Procter & Gamble and The Hartford.
Alpine skiing was the most medal-rich American sport at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, as five U.S. athletes reached the podium 11 times, earning three gold, five silver and three bronze medals. With all five medalists from Vancouver returning for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, Team USA has high hopes for another medal haul in Sochi.
With four medals, including gold in both the women’s downhill sitting and the women’s giant slalom, alpine skier Alana Nichols (Farmington, N.M.) was the most decorated U.S. athlete at the 2010 Games. Nichols missed the early portion of the 2013-2014 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Cup circuit after tearing three ligaments in her shoulder in a training accident at Mount Hood, Ore., in summer 2013. However, Nichols wasn’t out for long and returned to world cup competition in January 2014 where she won three medals in Panorama, B.C.
Laurie Stephens (Wenham, Mass.) won silver in the women’s downhill sitting class at the 2010 Games, and she led the charge for Team USA at the 2013 world championships, medaling twice, winning gold in women’s downhill sitting and bronze in women’s super-G.
On the men’s side, top athletes to watch include Mark Bathum (Mercer Island, Wash.) and his guide Cade Yamamoto (Quincy, Wash.) The duo only began working together this year and won three medals in their first world cup. Bathum won silver in Vancouver with another guide. Tyler Walker (Franconia,N.H.) is a three-time Paralympian who is on the hunt for his first Paralympic medal to go along with multiple NorAm Cup, national championship and world cup medals.
In Sochi, the Paralympic alpine competition consists of 30 events both for men and women including three speed disciplines and two technical disciplines. Speed events are downhill, super-G and super combined with visually impaired, sitting and standing divisions in each. Technical events are slalom and giant slalom with the same three divisions. The IPC includes snowboard cross as a discipline of alpine skiing; however, the U.S. Paralympic Snowboarding Team is covered independently.
Nordic skiing (Biathlon and cross-country skiing)
Athletes named to the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Nordic Skiing Team may compete in one or two disciplines at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, as biathlon and cross-country skiing are contested as separate sports. Team USA is vying for medals in both.
With U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Dan Cnossen (Topeka, Kan.), and U.S. Army veteran Andy Soule (Pearland, Texas) leading the way, a team loaded with military athletes has sights set on its first Paralympic medal in cross-country skiing since 2006 and its second overall medal in biathlon. Soule became the first U.S. biathlete ever to win a medal at the Olympic or Paralympic Winter Games in 2010 when he claimed the bronze in the men’s sitting 2.4-kilometer individual pursuit.
Team USA won an impressive 13 medals at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Cup in Cable, Wis., with Cnossen leading the American tally with two medals in biathlon and two in cross-country. Soule earned silver in the middle-distance biathlon event, while Beth Requist (Winter Park, Colo.) earned two bronze medals in women’s long and short-distance biathlon.
The 2013-14 season has been a learning experience for Team USA, as athletes focused on finding equipment improvements built specifically for Sochi snow. The team also faced tough competition from Russia and Germany throughout the world cup circuit.
Oksana Masters (Louisville, Ky.), a 2012 Paralympic medalist in rowing who will make her Nordic Games debut in Sochi, earned two bronzes at the IPC Nordic Skiing World Cups in Canmore, Alberta, and Oberstdorf, Germany. Nordic up-and-comer Tatyana McFadden (Clarksville, Md.), a standout in Paralympic track and field, has yet to medal on the world cup stage, but earned sprint victories at both the 2013 and 2014 U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Championships. With just a little more than a year on skis heading into Sochi, her future is promising.
Cnossen and Soule were consistently the top U.S. finishers on the men’s side in the lead-up to Sochi, with ninth-place finishes in Canmore highlighting each athlete’s world cup season.
Gold is not good enough. The U.S. National Sled Hockey Team wants to be a part of the history books. 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.
At the 2012 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey (A) World Championship in Hamar, Norway, Team USA topped Estonia 2-1 (shootout), lost to Czech Republic 2-1 (SO) and beat Japan 5-0 before moving onto the playoffs. In a 2-1 victory over Canada in the semifinals, goaltender Steve Cash (Overland, Mo.) made 15 saves. Forward Taylor Lipsett (Plano, Texas) tallied three goals and added an assist as Team USA defeated Korea, 5-1, to secure the gold medal. Defenseman Taylor Chace (Hampton Falls, N.H.) and Cash were named to the all-tournament team for their efforts.
Team USA’s toughest test on the road to Sochi came in April 2013, in Goyang City, Korea, when it played for a third straight world title. While Team USA had 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 prevailed in heartbreaking fashion, 1-0.
The U.S. outscored opponents 19-1 in its first four games, yet it could not muster a goal against Canada in the gold medal game. Early in the second period, a bouncing puck eluded Cash, who finished the game with 14 saves. Team USA wrapped up the 2012-13 season with a record of 14-3-0 (W-L-T).
In January 2014, Team USA beat Canada twice in a three game series.
Team USA is looking to make history in Sochi in the first-ever snowboarding event in the Paralympic Winter Games, with a full-team of five men and five women who will compete in the lower limb impairment snowboard cross competitions. The International Paralympic Committee announced the decision to add snowboard cross to the alpine skiing program for 2014 on May 2, 2012.
Team USA has one of the most dominant Paralympic snowboarding programs with more riders on the world cup circuit than any other nation. On the 2013-14 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing Para-Snowboard World Cup circuit, the United States finished 21,605 points ahead of the Netherlands to win the first nations cup.
The U.S. enters the Games with three of the top-ranked men in the world, with Mike Shea (Castaic, Calif.) and Evan Strong (Maui, Hawaii) sharing the current No. 1 spot on the IPC world rankings. Keith Gabel (Ogden, Utah) held the top spot earlier in the season and is now tied for third with Carl Murphy of New Zealand. Shea won the overall world cup title as he won four of the seven world cup competitions this season, while Strong won two and earned three silver medals to take the runner-up spot.
On the women’s side, Heidi Jo Duce (Ouray, Colo.) and Amy Purdy (Las Vegas, Nev.) are tied for the No. 2 spot on the world rankings. Purdy and Duce, the national champion, have battled back-and-forth for podium positions throughout much of the season. Duce won three silver and two bronze medals in world cup competition this season, with Purdy winning three silvers and one bronze. American Nicole Roundy (Salt Lake City, Utah) is also at the top of the rankings, sitting in fifth.
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.
“We came and we played, we trained really hard,” said Patrick McDonald, Team USA’s skip. “After the fourth end break they turned up the heat. They made it really difficult. The best team won.” The U.S. fell to China’s Haitao Wang, 6-5, to finish with an 8-4 record.
“I’m very proud of our team and very proud of how we played,” Penny Greely said. “We’ve come a long way in two years. Next year we’re only going to be stronger. We are going for gold in the Paralympics.”
Team USA holds one medal from the world championships, a bronze in 2008.
McDonald (Madison, Wis.), who was injured while serving with the U.S. Army in Korea, and teammates David Palmer (Mashpee, Mass.), Jimmy Joseph (New Hartford, N.Y.), Greely (Green Bay, Wis.), and Meghan Lino (East Falmouth, Mass.) have qualified for the U.S. for the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
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.
Joseph was part of both the 2006 and 2010 U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Curling Teams. McDonald, the only other member of the current team with Paralympic wheelchair curling experience, represented Team USA in Vancouver.
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 at least male and one female representative.
The sport is now practiced in 24 different countries with 10 countries qualifying to compete in Sochi.