U.S. Paralympics snowboarders shine in world cup opener

By Caryn Maconi | Nov. 22, 2013, 6 p.m. (ET)
Mike Shea
Mike Shea won the season opening world cup for para-snowboarding. 

LANDGRAAF, Netherlands — In the first International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing Snowboard World Cup of the season in Landgraaf, Netherlands, on Friday, Americans Mike Shea (Castaic, Calif.), Keith Gabel (Ogden, Utah) and Amy Purdy (Las Vegas, Nev.) took to the podium.

With their medal-winning performances, the three U.S. Paralympics Snowboard National Team members improved their chances at making the U.S. team that will compete in snowboard cross at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in March.

Shea took home gold in the lower limb impairment classification on Friday, finishing his best two of three runs in a combined time of 1 minute, 3.08 seconds.

“I am beyond happy with the win and I am very pleased with how Team USA performed at the season opener,” Shea said. “It builds momentum going into the rest of the season. There was a lot of new talent from different counties – people have been training hard.”

U.S. teammate Gabel finished less than four seconds behind Shea to earn silver in 1:07.01 while Matti Suur-Hamari of Finland took bronze in 1:10.81.

American Tyler Burdick (Salt Lake City, Utah), ranked No. 8 in the world after last season, raced Friday as well, finishing seventh out of the 29-competitor field in 1:14:26.

In the women’s lower limb impairment race, Purdy was edged by world No. 1 Bibian Mentel of the Netherlands by just over 10 seconds (1:11.64, 1:21.73). Earning bronze was Mentel’s teammate Lisa Bunschoten in 1:25.35.  

Nicole Roundy (Salt Lake City, Utah), a member of the U.S. Paralympics National Team, took fourth out of nine racers with a combined time of 1:29.33.

Purdy, who is currently ranked No. 2 worldwide after finishing second to Mentel six times last season, said she came to the Netherlands to race not for the points, but more for the experience.

“I wanted to get into a high-pressure situation early on in the season so I could prepare for the upcoming world cups in North America in January and also so that I could see what else I need to train on before the Paralympic Winter Games,” Purdy said. “I am very happy with my results.”

It was a unique venue for a snowboard cross race, as the event was held on an indoor mountain at SnowWorld, the world’s largest (and only) indoor International Ski Federation-certified competition slope.   

Purdy, who is the only double amputee on the international racing circuit, said the difficulty of the course led her and her coach Miah Wheeler to take a more conservative approach to race strategy.

“The course was icy, bumpy and fast, so my coach and I made the choice to have me ride smart,” Purdy said. “Did I ride my absolute fastest? No. But I rode smart on a high-risk course and that put me in a great spot.”

The SnowWorld course was not brand new for the para-snowboard athletes, as they also competed on Thursday in the Europa Cup, which was held on the same course.

Shea was also the winner of Thursday’s race, finishing his two runs in a combined time of 1:07.31. The Czech Republic’s Tomas Vaverka raced to second in 1:10.75, while Gabel was a close third in 1:11.24.

“The venue was great,” Shea said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of room to build a big course, so it was tight and very technical, but that was to be expected.”

The women’s Europa Cup panned out in similar fashion to Friday’s race, with Mentel taking first by more than 12 seconds to finish in 1:17:72. Purdy’s time of 1:24:80 was good enough for second, while Bunschoten finished third in 1:29:77. Roundy also raced for Team USA, finishing sixth overall in 1:38.77.  

Two notable members of the U.S. Team who were absent from the races in Landgraaf were Evan Strong (Nevada City, Calif.), who shares the No. 1 world ranking with New Zealand’s Carl Murphy, and Heidi Jo Duce (Ouray, Colo.), ranked No. 3 worldwide at the end of last season.    

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time here in the Netherlands,” Shea said. “I’m looking forward to returning to the states so that can train hard with my teammates.”

The next IPC Alpine Skiing Snowboard World Cup is set for Jan. 17-19 in Copper Mountain, Colo.

Para-snowboard cross will make its debut at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, which are set for March 7-16 in Sochi, Russia, following the Olympic Winter Games. The U.S. team that will compete in Sochi will be named in early February. The roster will be determined by points accumulated throughout the world cup season; athletes who medal at one or more world cups are likely to make the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team.