U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing Team back in action at world cup final

By Caryn Maconi | Jan. 16, 2014, 5:45 p.m. (ET)
Dan Cnossen 
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Dan Cnossen, who raced to three national titles at the U.S. Championships in January, will face international competition for the last time before the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games this week at the IPC Nordic Skiing World Cup Final. 

After a strong showing at the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Championship, Team USA’s top Nordic skiers will be back in action in Oberstdorf, Germany, this weekend.

The 2014 International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Cup Final, which marks the last international competition before the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, is set for Jan. 17-19.

More than 140 athletes from 25 nations are expected in Oberstdorf. Competition begins Friday with long-distance races, followed by sprints on Saturday and middle distance on Sunday.

The IPC Biathlon World Cup Final will follow in Oberried, Germany, from Jan. 23-26. Most members of the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Team will compete at both world cups in hopes of qualifying in cross-country skiing and biathlon for the Sochi Games, which are set for March 7-16.

“We encourage all of our athletes to try [biathlon],” said U.S Paralympics Nordic Skiing High Performance Director John Farra. “It’s the ultimate of mind-body balance – being able to hammer your body and slam on your ski poles, but then also be able to come into the shooting range, settle your heart rate down in your chest, mind over matter, and shoot at a very, very small target.”

Team USA has seen its share of success so far this season, with a variety of athletes claiming top spots in national and international competition. At the first world cup of the season in Canmore, Alberta, Oksana Masters (Louisville, Ky.) earned her first career Nordic medal with a bronze in the 5-kilometer cross-country race.

At the same event, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Dan Cnossen (Topeka, Kan.), whose silver medal at last January’s world cup in Cable, Wis., was named one of the Top 13 Moments of 2013 for U.S. Paralympics, recorded three top-10 finishes against a strong Russian field.

After the world cup season concludes, athletes will turn their focus to final training before the Paralympic Winter Games – not that they haven’t been preparing all season.

In fact, the national team has been training for months on equipment and terrain modeled after what the athletes will see in Sochi. The sit-skis the team uses for racing were tested on Sochi snow during their design phase. Both the race schedule and terrain at the U.S. National Championships were designed to best resemble the schedule and course at the Sochi Games.

“We’re really working on those little strategies that could add up to enough to get from close to the podium to actually on the podium,” Farra said. “We’re very close with a couple of athletes, for sure.”

The 17 athletes who will represent Team USA in Nordic skiing in Sochi will be named no later than Jan. 31, 2014. The roster will be determined based on a points system that includes world cup results throughout the season.

At the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, Team USA sent six athletes to compete in Nordic skiing events, with all six racing cross-country and two also competing in biathlon events. Army veteran Andy Soule’s bronze medal in biathlon marked the first-ever U.S. biathlon medal at an Olympic or Paralympic Games. 

Soule (San Antonio, Tex.) and Air Force veteran Sean Halsted (Spokane, Wash.) are the only members of the current men’s national team that also represented Team USA at the Vancouver Games. On the women’s side, Monica Bascio (Evergreen, Colo.) competed at the Paralympic Winter Games in both 2006 and 2010.

A full event schedule, results and additional information about the IPC Nordic Skiing World Cup Final can be found at IPC-WorldCup.com. Check back at USParalympics.org for breaking news and a post-event recap.