Andrew Kurka training for downhill at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 2, 2022 in Yanqing, China.
The two most decorated members of the U.S. alpine skiing team at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 have opposite approaches on the hill. Alaska native Andrew Kurka prefers to go all out and take chances on the course, while Massachusetts native Laurie Stephens prefers to sit back and remain patient during a run.
These two sit skiers will be the biggest medal hopefuls for Team USA when the alpine competitions begin on March 5 with the downhill in Yanqing, the mountainous suburb of China’s capital. The alpine skiing events will consist of five disciplines: downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and super combined, with medals being awarded for each in the sitting, standing and visually impaired categories.
Kurka, who has the literal energy of a former radio personality, was a six-time Alaska state wrestling champion before becoming a two-time Paralympic and six-time world championships medalist on the slopes. He’s expected to compete in several events at the Games, beginning with downhill, which he owns a Paralympic and world title in.
“The hill’s really nice and the conditions are flawless here, especially when the sun opens up and beats down on it,” Kurka said following his final training run on Thursday. “The first training run I had some technical difficulties, but these last two have been fantastic, and I think my opponents know I have some podium potential.”
Don’t expect him to play it safe, though.
“I’m 100 percent crash or win mentality,” Kurka said. “I know where the fastest line is. I know what it takes to ski that fastest line, so I’m going to do everything it takes to do that. I’m here to win, and if I don’t mess up I will. There’s no question about that. Everyone on the circuit knows that’s the way I roll, and if I make a mistake I can still manage to make the podium.”
Stephens will be competing in her fifth Winter Paralympics — the most of anyone in the delegation — and will be looking to add to the seven Paralympic medals to her name. At January’s world championships, she struck gold in the giant slalom and bronze in the slalom, showing she’s still a major threat to podium at the Games.
In addition to Kurka and Stephens, here are the Team USA athlete storylines to follow on the slopes.