There are some pretty odd and dangerous seeming sports at the Winter Olympics. After all what could be more exciting than the bizarre James Bond-ishness of the skiing/rifle shooting combination event of the biathlon. Well, how about doing all that and doing it as a blind person? Welcome to the Winter Paralympics.
On Wednesday I gave my baked tribute to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, but by then, of course, the games themselves had finished. The media seems to have moved their attention from Sochi now (although obviously some of that shift in attention is reasonably provoked by Russia’s latest involvement in the Crimea), kind of ignoring that another set of Winter games events begins this week. Channel 4 are covering the Winter Paralympics as they did the regular Paralympics, but there is far less attention devoted to it generally than the London games, which seems a bit of a shame given the ongoing debate about Sochi’s commitment to the Olympic agenda of tolerance and equality.
So, apart from the skiing/shooting for the visually impaired (it’s done with a guide skier and a rifle targeted by sound and firing lasers), what other events do we have to look forward to?
Well, perennial baffling British favourite curling has its paralympic equivalent, a mixed gender wheelchair event in which ten countries will be competing for the prize. Defending champions Canada will be the favourites for the prize, but Britain do have a shout at a medal, as they did with a silver in 2006.
Five of the fifteen strong British Winter Paralympic team are curlers with the rest competing in skiing. The only other non-skiing event is Paralympic ice hockey, which is like the more high profile wheelchair basketball at the Summer Olympics, only with sleds to skate on instead of wheelchairs. This one looks like being a fight between Canada and the United States.
Aside from these two ice events, there are 70 skiing events, giving Britain a chance of bettering their first ever medal on snow at the regular Winter Games over the last few weeks. These are divided, like the regular Olympic events, into cross-country, alpine events like downhill and slalom, and biathlon. Those events are then divided into standing competitors, sitting ones and the visually impaired.
Cross country skiing and biathlon are both generally dominated by the Russians and likely to push the host nation’s Paralympic team to the top of the medal table like their regular team. Britain have won two bronzes in cross country Paralympic skiing, in 1994 and 1984, and never won anything in Paralympic biathlon. This year we have no competitors in these events, so we’ll have to look to the alpine skiers if we want to see another British snow medal.
The Germans won the alpine skiing medal table at the last two Winter Paralympics, so will probably remain the favourites this time around, but the USA are always likely to be competitive. Alpine skiing has also been Britain’s most successful Paralympic discipline with four bronze medals in 1994, a silver and four bronzes in 1992, and a bronze in 1984.
This year our best ski medal hopes come in the visually impaired alpine skiing events with Jade Etherington, with guide skier Caroline Powell, and Kelly Gallagher, with guide skier Charlotte Evans, competing in the Downhill, Super-G, Slalom and Giant Slalom for the visually impaired. Both have won World Championship medals in the past, so are a good bet to compete for success at the Paralympics. So, for all those people who say that Britain never win any skiing medals at the Olympics, here’s your chance to see just that!