Andy Soule, U.S. Army veteran, enters the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games as the only U.S. Olympian or Paralympian to medal in biathlon at the Games.
Ready for the challenge of second Paralympics
BY ANDY SOULE
Competing in the Paralympics is a special experience. I first did so in Vancouver in 2010, and I’ll never forget it.
Although I raced in five biathlon and cross-country skiing events, the one that sticks with me the most was the sitting 2.4-kilometer individual pursuit. Coming out of the range on the last lap, I saw the guy ahead of me, in third place. I knew right then that I could catch him from behind. I think it was on the last backstretch that I caught him going up the hill. From there I just had to make it to the finish line.
At the time I remember it feeling kind of weird, as if I was all alone, but looking back at the video it always surprises me to see how closely I was being pursued. Nonetheless, I finished the race in third place. And in doing so, I became the first American to medal in biathlon at the Olympic or Paralympic Winter Games.
I almost couldn't believe it at the time. My fiancée (now wife) was there with her mother and my parents. Max Cobb, the head of U.S. biathlon, was actually there watching the race, too. The medal ceremony that night was really cool, but the moment that stands out to me the most was the flower ceremony just after the race, being right in the middle of the stadium with the other top finishers and with so much going on. I still have a picture of that on my wall at home.
The organizers at Vancouver put on an excellent event. Having watched the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, I expect these Paralympics to be a great experience as well. We actually competed there last year and, despite a few hiccups that you’ll have at any venue, any competition, they put on a really, really good event and have a good venue.
The Sochi Games are also the first that will have a big TV presence in the United States. My first developmental year as a skier was during the Torino Games in 2006, and there was no coverage really. It’s increased tons over the last two Olympic cycles really. So I am really happy to see the coverage increasing for Paralympic sport.
That said, while the big stage and festive atmosphere are exciting, I try to approach the Paralympics as I would any other competition. On race day I’m more the type where I’m just trying to stay in a routine, focusing on my preparation, my warm-up, all of that. All the other stuff that’s happening around me, I let it happen and focus on what I’m doing.
I don’t ever like to put a number out there for how I hope to finish. Those are difficult goals to really set because you never know what kind of day everyone else is going to have. But you have control over what kind of day you have, and so that is my goal is to put together the absolute best days of competition that I can.
The 2.4-km pursuit is no longer on the Paralympics program, but in Sochi I will be competing in three biathlon events: 7.5, 12.5 and 15-km. I’m also doing cross-country.
Reaching the medal podium again is going to be a challenge. The Russians are our stiffest competition, and we are competing on their home turf. However, I think I am the most fit I have ever been, and I am feeling good and am excited to get on the snow.
Going into Sochi, I am 33 years old. People ask if these Paralympics might be my last. Honestly, my wife and I are in the process of deciding that; we don’t quite know yet. If these are my final Paralympics, however, I hope I can go home saying that I was fully prepared and put together a good day of competition in each event. You really can’t ask for much more than that.