Alana Nichols competes in the Women's Giant Slalom Sitting during day nine of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games at Rosa Khutor Alpine Center on March 16, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
From the first Paralympic Winter Games in 1976 to the most recent one in 2018, U.S. alpine skiers have represented the country on the slopes with pride and passion.
They’ve progressed the sport with their ingenuity and advocacy and also become among the most decorated athletes in the history of the sport. Hall of fame careers have been born in the last 44 years, while others may just be getting started.
Here’s a look at some of the history of success the U.S. Para alpine program has enjoyed over the years.
The total number of medals that U.S. alpine skiers have won in the Paralympic Winter Games. Only Austria, with 269, has more.
The number of gold medals that U.S. alpine skiers have won in the Paralympics. That puts them one ahead of Austria, which has 90.
The number of medals that both Sarah Will and Sarah Billmeier totaled during their four trips to the Winter Paralympics between 1992 and 2002.
The record number of gold medals that Will won during her four trips to the Paralympics. The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Famer tops the U.S. leaderboard as the most decorated women’s Para alpine skier ever and ranks second overall in the world behind only Reinhild Moeller of Germany, who has 19 medals including 16 gold.
The number of medals that Greg Mannino won during his five trips to the Paralympics (six gold, four silver and two bronze medals) between 1988 and 2002. That’s the same number that Chris Waddell won from 1992 to 2002 (five gold, five silver, two bronze), making them the most decorated U.S. men in Paralympic alpine history.
The number of U.S. athletes who participated in the first Winter Paralympics in 1976 in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden. That athlete was Bill Hovanic, a helicopter pilot who lost his right leg below the knee after being shot down during the Vietnam War. He acted as coach, athlete and flag bearer in Sweden, and competed in slalom, alpine combined and giant slalom as well as the short distance 5-kilometer race in Nordic skiing. Hovanic would go on to compete in three more Winter Paralympics before retiring.
The number of U.S. alpine skiers who medaled at the Winter Paralympics 1980 in Geilo, Norway, earning the country its first medals in the sport. Cindy Castellano won gold medals in both the giant slalom and slalom in the 3A classification, with Kathy Poohachof second in that giant slalom. Doug Keil won gold in both events for the men in the 4 classification, and Janet Penn won the bronze in giant slalom in 2A.
The number of U.S. athletes who competed just four years later in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1984. That wasn’t the only number that saw a major bump that year. Every single U.S. alpine athlete there medaled, with some coming home with multiple pieces of hardware. Among the notable performances: Jack Benedick, the pioneer and tireless advocate of the sport, won his lone Paralympic medal this year, taking silver in alpine combined; fellow legend Paul DiBello swept the gold medals, winning alpine combined, downhill, slalom and giant slalom; and Janet Penn and Kathy Poohachof became the first multi-year Winter Paralympic medalists for the U.S., adding two and four more medals, respectively. All in all, the U.S. totaled 34 medals in 1984.
The largest U.S. Para alpine contingent ever to participate in the Winter Paralympics, and it was on home soil. Although the numbers have fallen a little in subsequent years, it was a record number that competed in Salt Lake City in 2002. It would also be the last Winter Paralympics for some of the legends of the sport in the U.S., including Greg Mannino and Chris Waddell, who earned one silver and two bronze medals to bring his total to 12. It would also be the fourth and final trip for Sarah Billmeier, who added a gold in super-G and silver medals in slalom and downhill. Likewise, Sarah Will bid farewell to her Paralympic career with her fourth competition in Salt Lake City and did so in the best way possible, sweeping the gold medals in downhill, giant slalom, slalom and super-G.
The number of Paralympic gold medals won by Alana Nichols. She won her first in 2008 as a wheelchair basketball player. When Nichols won downhill and slalom gold medals two years later in 2010, she became the first U.S. female Paralympian to win gold medals at a Summer and Winter Paralympic Games. She went on to win six total medals over her five Paralympics (including in 2016 in paracanoe). Most of her success has come in alpine, though, where she’s also won two silvers and a bronze medal. Allison Jones later joined the club. She competed at eight Paralympics as an alpine skier and cyclist, winning gold medals in 2006 (slalom) and 2012 (road time trial).