You may know a thing or two about the Winter Olympic Games, but you might not know as much about the international sporting event that takes place just a few weeks after each Winter Olympics: the Winter Paralympic Games.
The Paralympics is a multisport competition for athletes with physical disabilities. The 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, will see athletes compete in six different sports, including alpine skiing. Para-alpine skiing has been part of the Winter Paralympics since the Games’ inception in 1976. Here are seven things to know about the sport.
Understanding the Classifications
Athletes in the Paralympics have different types of disabilities, and para-alpine skiing is open to athletes with any visual or physical disability.
The events are broken down into three general disability types: standing, blind, and sitting. Within each type, there exist several different categories. For instance, the visually impaired class consists of B1 (totally blind), B2 (visual acuity of less than 2/60) and B3 (visual acuity of 2/60 to 6/60). The standing class includes 11 different categories.
The sitting class (paraplegia of varying degrees or double leg amputation) uses the monoski as the equipment of choice. Also known as the sit-ski, a monoski has a molded seat sitting atop a shock absorber, mounted onto a medal frame. The base of the monoski has a block molded into the shape of a ski boot sole, which clicks into a single ski’s binding.
Instead of poles, monoskiers use outriggers for stability. Outriggers look somewhat like an arm brace which extends to a pole, with small ski-shaped pieces at the bottom of the poles.
Awarding the Medals
Each of the three groups (sitting, standing and visually impaired) receives its own medal event, where gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded. Although different classes exist within each grouping, there is a factoring system in place to level the playing field between athletes of different classes. The skier’s final time will be multiplied by the factor number associated with their particular class. This means that the gold medal winner isn’t necessarily the person who makes it down the mountain in the shortest amount of time. It’s the factored time that will determine who walks away with the medals.
The Winter Paralympic alpine skiing program consists of six different events:
Downhill: Athletes ski down a long, steep course and must pass through mandatory gates.
Super‑G: Super‑G is all about speed. The Super‑G course is a little shorter than the Downhill course, and the athletes have a single run to show their stuff.
Slalom: Athletes complete two runs on two different courses within the same day. The times from each run are then combined. The course is typically shorter than Downhill, but the number of gates along the course is greatly increased.
Giant Slalom: Similar to the Slalom event, but with a longer course and fewer gates.
Super Combined: Super‑G meets Slalom. Technically, the Super Combined can be a combination of any of the two disciplines, but the typical event consists of one run of the Super‑G course and one run of the Slalom course.
The sixth event? Read on.
Snowboarding and the Paralympics
For the first time ever, the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games will feature a snowboard cross course—think berms, jumps, rollers, and other man-made obstacles.
Athletes will complete three runs on the course, and the times from their two best runs will be combined. Unlike snowboard cross at the Olympics, where four athletes hit the course at once, the Paralympic course will have just one athlete competing at a time.
Who’s the Boss?
To date, we’ve seen 25 countries represented in alpine skiing events in the Paralympics.
USA has amassed the most gold medals (89), but Austria takes the cake for most podium finishes (253 medals overall, ahead of USA’s 237). Germany and Switzerland take third and fourth place, with 110 and 104 total medals, respectively.
Who to Watch For
It looks like the 2014 games will be quite competitive: Russia’s Aleksandra Frantceva is fresh off three golds at the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships; Slovakia’s Henrieta Farkasova is considered to be her biggest competitor (she took gold in Super‑G, Super Combined and Giant Slalom at the 2010 Winter Paralympic games, plus a silver medal in Downhill).
Three-time World Cup gold medalist Amy Purdy will be competing in the snowboarding category for USA.
Jakub Krako of Slovakia took gold in Giant Slalom, Super Combined and Slalom at the 2010 games, and silver in the Super‑G event, with Jon Santacana of Spain right on his heels, with a gold in Downhill and silvers in Giant Slalom and Slalom at the same games.
For more information on the sport, regulations and athletes, check out the official Paralympic Alpine Skiing site.