Did you know? Fourteen facts about the Paralympic Winter Games

By Traci Hendrix | March 07, 2013, 10 a.m. (ET)

At the Closing Ceremony of the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, Vancouver passed the Paralympic torch to Sochi, Russia, the site of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

It is time for winter Paralympians to take center stage. At the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, almost 700 athletes from across the world will unite in southeastern Russia, providing nine days of impressive athletic feats and inspiring stories. 

The Paralympic Winter Games started in 1976 in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, with 250 athletes with spinal cord injuries competing. For the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, more than 230,000 spectators turned out to watch athletes in five classifications (spinal injury, amputee, visual impairment, cerebral palsy and Les Autres) compete.

Bump up your knowledge on the Paralympics and ready yourself for excitement with these 14 facts about the Paralympic Winter Games.

Who? What? When? Where?

The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games will be held March 7-16, 2014 in Sochi, Russia, with venues located in the coastal and mountain clusters. The Games are expected to draw 700 athletes from 45 countries, including the United States, for alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country, sled hockey and wheelchair curling competitions.

Bigger and better

Sochi, Russia, anticipates hosting the largest Paralympic Winter Games in history, with an estimated 700 athletes competing in 72 medal events. The last Paralympic Winter Games, held March 12-21, 2010, in Vancouver, Canada, featured 506 athletes from 44 nations competing in 64 medal events. 

Faces of Sochi 2014

The Paralympic Winter Games have mascots. For the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, there are two mascots, "The Ray of Light" and "The Snowflake", which were created with the principles of the Paralympic Movement in mind.  Both convey the strength of spirit and the will to win. “The Ray of Light” and “The Snowflake” also embody the difficulties they have overcome and show they have the ability to make anything possible.

Team USA's first Winter Games gold

The first Paralympic Winter Games were held in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden in 1976. At the Geilo 1980 Winter Paralympic Games, the U.S. took home their first Winter Games medals: four gold medals, one silver and one bronze medal.

Historic Salt Lake City

The Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Paralympic Games were the first Winter Paralympic Games held in the United States. The Games marked the first Winter Games for Andorra, Chile, the People’s Republic of China, Croatia, Greece, and Hungary. 

Same city, same venues

The first Paralympic Winter Games to be held in the same city and venues as the Olympic Winter Games was the 1992 competition in Albertville, France. 

A place for everyone

The first Paralympic Winter Games were open only to athletes with spinal cord injuries. In 2014, athletes in six classifications (spinal injury, amputee, visual impairment, cerebral palsy and Les Autres) have the opportunity to compete.


The Winter Paralympic Games include alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, sled hockey and wheelchair curling. The alpine skiing includes four disciplines: downhill slalom, giant slalom, super-giant and now standing snowboard cross.

Opportunity in alpine

Alpine skiing is the largest sport at the Paralympic Winter Games, with 32 medal events. (The nordic skiing disciplines of biathlon and cross-country skiing, considered separate sports in the Games, have a combined 38 medal opportunities.) Slalom and giant slalom competitions were included in the first Paralympic Winter Games. In 1984, downhill competitions were held for the first time at the Games in Innsbruck, Austria. Super G was added in 1994 in Lillehammer.

Snowboarding premiere

On May 2, 2012, the International Paralympic Committee announced that the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games would mark the debut of snowboard cross, a discipline of alpine skiing. For the sport's debut, the races will be run in a time trial format (one rider on course at a time). Results are calculated without factors that adjust scores based on classification.

Vancouver victories

At the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, Team USA won 13 medals (four golds, five silvers and four bronzes). Alana Nichols, led the overall Team USA medal haul with two golds, one silver and one bronze. Stephani Victor won three medals in Vancouver, including a gold, and Danielle Umstead won two. The U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team also won gold.

A curse?

The United States has two Paralympic Winter Games gold medals in sled hockey. But since sled hockey debuted in Lillehammer, no country has ever successfully defended the gold medal. Sweden won the inaugural title in 1994 but placed third at the Nagano 1998 Paralympic Winter Games. In 1998, Norway won the gold medal but finished second to the United States in 2002. Team USA placed third at the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games to Canada and Norway. In 2010, the U.S. won a second gold medal, with Canada finishing fourth.

Worth her medal

Norwegian Nordic skier Ragnhild Myklebust, who also competed in ice sledge racing, has more medals from the Paralympic Winter Games than an other athlete. To date, she has 27 medals, of which 22 are gold medals. 

International Paralympic Committee

Like the Paralympic Games, the Winter Paralympic Games are overseen by the International Paralympic Committee, which is a counterpart to the International Olympic Committee. The IPC also acts as the international federation for Paralympic alpine skiing and Nordic skiing (biathlon and cross-country).