Laurie Stephens competes during the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 3, 2022 in Beijing.
The Para alpine skiing calendar can best be described as condensed and relentless.
The highly competitive, almost non-stop schedule is not particularly conducive to focused, consistent and quality runs. The best-trained skiers spend nearly all four years in a Paralympic quad repeating their habits, refining their technique and honing in on the smallest details so that when they’re at the start gate in the Paralympic Winter Games, they are able to replicate their best personal performance under the most intense circumstances.
That’s no easy task, said Tony McAllister, the new associate director of high performance for U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing. That is why the skiers and their coaches use the four years between the Games to gather data, create a plan and slowly start to deconstruct every movement in a skier’s run to maximize their potential.
“We’re in a bit of a rebuilding phase right now in year one of the new quad,” McAllister said. “We’re looking at the fundamentals, or seeing if we can find any individual opportunities there for each athlete to redefine those, or retrain them to give them opportunity further down the line.”
The outcome isn’t the goal. There are no expectations for finishes, just focused, process-driven work. There is a strong belief among both staff and skiers that if they stick to the plan and remain accountable to the process, the inevitable outcome is podium placement and medal wins.
This first year after the Paralympics is about information gathering with the goal of repeating and narrowing the scope of work. It’s about perfecting a skier’s craft and mental performance so that as the quad continues, an athlete is focusing on more detailed work and looking for smaller gains with the goal of an easily replicable process.
“They’re skiers at the end of the day, so they want to go fast,” McAllister said. “They want to race. It’s recognizing that and controlling that so all the stuff they’ve worked on up to that point doesn’t go out the window.”
The Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 were tough for the team, with leadership changes just before the Games and injuries in training and competition runs. It was a difficult stretch for the athletes involved. But, it led to a lot of learning, growth and understanding of what the team needed to be moving forward, according to McAllister.