The Paralympics always take place a week after the Olympics in the same town. The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, the eleventh of its kind, just saw their closing ceremony Sunday. Forty-five countries participated in 72 medal events in five sports: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, ice sledge hockey, and wheelchair curling. 2014 also marked the debut of my favorite winter sport, snowboarding. The USA sent 74 Paralympic athletes, and it was the first Paralympic Winter Games for Brazil, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

A fan, Paul, tweeted me the above video following my previous post on guiding the blind runner, and it inspired this blog post, which gives nod to the Paralympic athletes and the games they play. You thought I’m not one to give up in the face of obstacles and difficulty? These athletes blow me out of the water. So it got me thinking…

If you’ve been an avid reader of my blog, you know that I’ve picked up adaptive snowboarding three years ago. I haven’t had a chance to board this season yet, but I’m wondering how feasible it would be to train for an upcoming Paralympic Winter Game as a blind boarder. Eh, who am I kidding? I’ll be in my freaking forties by then, getting my ass whooped by twenty-year-olds who have been boarding since they were two. But I can dream, can’t I? If I’ve learned anything from my time on “MasterChef,” it’s to never be afraid to dream big.

As I’ve been quite busy and don’t have cable, I hadn’t caught any of the Sochi Paralympics. (The fact that there is no regular TV coverage of the Paralympics is another topic of debate for another time.) Does anyone know how many medals, if any, the U.S. Team won? How did the snowboarding event go down? What exactly is the nature of the snowboarding event(s)? I’m trying to plan my next victory. 😉

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3 Discussion to this post

  1. So the US had 18 medals: 2 gold, 7 silver, 9 bronze. American Evan Strong won gold in snowboarding.

    Christine, I have two friends, both Paralympians. One is a cross country ski guide. They run a Para XC ski program here called Skiing is Believing, which is for people with both VI and physical disabilities. Last March I went with them to Whistler for the day to do some photography for the program. I got to witness VI skiiers skiing for the very first time. It was pretty incredible how everyone took to it like ducks to water. THere were also people learning to sit ski. It was an amazing experience.

  2. Paul says:

    Because our satellite provider mysteriously unblocked NBC Sports Channel last month, we were able to see the Paralympic Snowboard Cross events. Here's some detail on the sport and the races.

    As Christine noted, Snowboard Cross made its Paralympic debut at the Sochi 2014 games. In most Paralympic Alpine Skiing events, there are six races for each event: one each for men and women for standing, sitting, and visually impaired athletes. Within each race, athletes are further divided into classifications based on the severity of their impairment. For the visually impaired races, for example, there are three classifications – B1, B2, and B3 – with B1 athletes having no sight at all, and B3 athletes having the least impairment. The classification is then used to assign a factor which adjusts each athlete's race time. This time factoring is often compared to the handicapping system used in golf. Both systems let competitors with different levels of ability compete together on the same course.

    However, for its inaugural appearance at the Paralympics, Snowboard Cross did NOT use a factoring system. Also, for both men and women, there was a single race for standing athletes only. These athletes included paraplegics, those with cerebral palsy or other genetic conditions, and single and double amputees. The lack of a time factor was a bit controversial, as it meant that athletes with prosthetics outperformed paraplegics. Tyler Mosher of Canada, for example, was quoted as saying, "It was a really tough course for someone who’s 40 per cent paralyzed below the waist." Mosher came in 12th in a field of 33 men.

    You may be wondering why there were no snowboard races for sitting or visually-impaired athletes. I actually don't have a firm answer on that, but it's most likely because there aren't yet enough athletes competing in those disciplines. The women's standing race had only 12 entrants, and only 11 actually raced. However, now that the Paralympics is getting wider exposure, this may well change by the 12th Winter Paralympic Games in South Korea. As to why no factoring system was used for Snowboard Cross, I never found a definitive answer, but it's probably because the event is so new that a fair, validated factoring system couldn't be devised in time. I would expect this to be different next time around as I know the issue is under study.

    This is getting way too long, but I did want to make one last observation: which is that watching the visually-impaired skiers is truly thrilling. These athletes race with guides and they communicate by using microphones and speakers. The guides often have to look back up the course to gauge where their athletes are positioned, something which is quite a feat in itself while skiing downhill at a rapid clip. There is an immense level of trust between the VI athletes and their guides. In short, watching this teamwork and these partnerships reminds us of how great humanity can be when we work together to achieve our goals.

    Oh, and Christine, the winner of the women's Paralympic Snowboard Cross event was Bibian Mentel-Spee of the Netherlands, and she'll be 42 years old later this year. So you've got plenty of time to make this happen if this is a goal you want to reach for.

  3. Have no place to ski in italy?

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