Team USA kicks off season with three podiums
LANDGRAAF, Netherlands -- In the first International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing Snowboard World Cup of the season in Landgraaf, Netherlands, , Americans Mike Shea (Castaic, Calif.), Keith Gabel (Ogden, Utah) and Amy Purdy (Las Vegas, Nev.) took to the podium.
With their medal-winning performances, the three U.S. Paralympics Snowboard National Team members improved their chances at making the U.S. team that will compete in snowboard cross at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in March.
Shea took home gold in the lower-limb impairment classification , finishing his best two of three runs in a combined time of 1 minute, 3.08 seconds.
“I am beyond happy with the win and I am very pleased with how Team USA performed at the season opener,” Shea said. “It builds momentum going into the rest of the season. There was a lot of new talent from different counties – people have been training hard.”
U.S. teammate Gabel finished less than four seconds behind Shea to earn silver in .01, while Matti Suur-Hamari of Finland took bronze in .81.
U.S. teammate Tyler Burdick (Salt Lake City, Utah), ranked No. 8 in the world after last season, raced as well, finishing 7th out of the 29-competitor field in 1:14:26.
In the women’s lower-limb impairment race, U.S. National A Team member Purdy was edged by world No. 1 Bibian Mentel of the Netherlands by just over 10 seconds (.64, .73). Earning bronze was Mentel’s teammate Lisa Bunschoten in .35.
Nicole Roundy (Salt Lake City, Utah), a member of the U.S. Paralympics National Team, took fourth out of nine racers with a combined time of .33.
Purdy, who is currently ranked No. 2 worldwide after finishing second to Mentel six times last season, said she came to the Netherlands to race not for the points, but more for the experience.
“I wanted to get into a high-pressure situation early on in the season so I could prepare for the upcoming world cups in North America in January and also so that I could see what else I need to train on before the Paralympic Games,” Purdy said. “I am very happy with my results.”
It was a unique venue for a snowboard cross race, as the event was held on an indoor mountain at SnowWorld, the world’s largest (and only) indoor International Ski Federation-certified competition slope.
Purdy, who is the only double amputee on the international racing circuit, said the difficulty of the course led her and her coach Miah Wheeler to take a more conservative approach to race strategy.
“The course was icy, bumpy and fast, so my coach and I made the choice to have me ride smart,” Purdy said. “Did I ride my absolute fastest? No. But I rode smart on a high-risk course, and that put me in a great spot.”
The SnowWorld course was not brand new for the para-snowboard athletes, as they also competed in the Europa Cup, which was held on the same course.
Shea was also the winner of Thursday’s race, finishing his best two of three runs in a combined time of .31. The Czech Republic’s Tomas Vaverka raced to second in .75, while Gabel was a close third in .24.
“The venue was great,” Shea said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of room to build a big course, so it was tight and very technical, but that was to be expected.”
The women’s Europa Cup panned out in similar fashion to Friday’s race, with Mentel taking first by more than 12 seconds to finish in :72. Purdy’s time of :80 was good enough for second, while Bunschoten finished third in :77. Roundy also raced for Team USA, finishing sixth overall in .77.
Two notable members of the U.S. Team who were absent from the races in Landgraaf were Evan Strong, who shares the No. 1 world ranking with New Zealand’s Carl Murphy, and Heidi Jo Duce, ranked No. 3 worldwide at the end of last season.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time here in the Netherlands,” Shea said. “I’m looking forward to returning to the states so that can train hard with my teammates.”
The next IPC Snowboard World Cup is set for in Copper, Colo.
Para-snowboard cross will make its debut in 2014 at the Paralympic Winter Games, which are set for in Sochi, Russia, following the Olympic Games. The U.S. team that will compete in Sochi will be named in early February. The roster will be determined by points accumulated throughout the world cup season; athletes who medal at one or more world cups are likely to make the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team.
Last Updated on Thursday, 14 November 2013 11:32
** This article originally appeared on the website FasterSkier.com **
At the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games in Vancouver, B.C., the U.S. finished fifth in the overall medal count. A dominant performance by the U.S. alpine team resulted 11 medals, three of them gold.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Olympic nordic team, including biathlon, consisted of just six athletes and a handful of coaches and support staff. Albeit small, the team was not without success. Andy Soule, an Afghanistan war veteran and double above-the-knee amputee, made history by becoming the first American to medal in biathlon in either Paralympic or Olympic competition.
At the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, nordic skiing and biathlon will account more that half of the available medals. To improve overall team results, the U.S. Olympic Committee realized that the U.S. needed more focus on these sports.
In 2011, John Farra, an Olympic cross-country skier and then-U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) nordic director, was the man selected as the first high-performance director of the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Program. Today, he leads a team of coaches and staff responsible for building a world-class program.
In a recent phone interview, Farra cited growth in the sport as evidence that the U.S. is on its way to that goal. At the Sochi Paralympics in March, Farra will field a team of 19 athletes, four coaches and 13 support staff. The Russians will max out at the allotted team size of 30 athletes, a goal that Farra has set for his team size for 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Assessing the team’s prospects for Sochi, Farra said, “On the men’s side, we have three guys who, on any given day, can be somewhere in the top six in the world.”
In a test event in Sochi last March, Dan Cnossen, Soule and Sean Halsted finished fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. One of the newest and most promising men on the national team, Farra described Cnossen as “a really tough guy who trains unbelievably professionally and really puts everything towards it.”
“While we are not expected to win any medals, when we are that close we are spending a lot of time and effort to find that extra half percent or 1 percent,” Farra said. “That gets them into the top three to steal a medal from the Russians or the Ukrainians.”
On the women’s side, Farra saw potential when he spoke with Tatyana McFadden a year and a half ago. A world-class wheelchair racer with nine gold medals between several Paralympics and World Championships, McFadden expressed interest in competitive nordic skiing. On Nov. 3, the 24-year-old University of Illinois student completed an unprecedented marathon “Grand Slam,” winning the Boston, Chicago, London, and New York road marathons in a single year.
A multiple ESPY Award (ESPN) nominee, McFadden’s celebrity status is steadily rising, and she was twice featured on the NBC Nightly News for her New York City win. Her sponsor, British Petroleum featured her in its TV promotional spots, and in other positive news, NBC announced it will provide a landmark 100 hours of television coverage for the Winter Paralympics.
“Next year when the Games are on you’ll be seeing national TV spots featuring Tatyana McFadden sit skiing and Olympian Kikkan Randall skiing,” Farra said.
Adding to McFadden’s media appeal is her storyline of returning to Russia to where she was born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which bones fails to form properly around the spinal cord. Abandoned in a Russian orphanage, she was adopted by Deborah McFadden and brought to the U.S. at age 6. Since 2012, Tatyana has actively advocated against a Russian law that prevents Americans from adopting Russian children.
“We hope she continues to have a good experience [with skiing] and that will drive some interest to our sport,” Farra said. “She has more fans than we’ll ever have, but our job is to not let it become a distraction and to prepare her with the technical skills to get around the course. She’s a good gal and it’s really fun to have her on the team.”
On McFadden’s chances for a medal in Sochi, Farra said, “Who knows? She is super strong and unbelievably fit. She has the most important part of nordic skiing down which is the fitness, and that’s impossible to fake. Technical skills will be an issue for her because her racing wheelchair doesn’t slide around corners and have the potential of going off the course and crashing into trees. It would be a huge challenge for anyone to go from newbie to Paralympic athlete in such a short period of time.”
McFadden first demonstrated her potential by winning the sprint race at last year’s U.S. Adaptive Cross Country Championships at Soldier Hollow last year in a borrowed and somewhat ill-fitting sit ski. After, Farra contacted a Japanese company that makes sit skis designed to accommodate McFadden’s more forward-leaning position in wheelchair racing.
“As soon as she slipped in there, and I mean slipped in there because it’s a tight fit, she got this big smile on her face,” he said. “We’ll see how it works out because her first race in it will be at the IPC [International Paralympic Committee] World Cup races in Canmore in December.”
In addition to finalizing the team at World Cup and National Championship races this season, Farra’s strategy is to use these races to get his staff ready for Sochi.
“We plan to bring a large team and the entire Sochi staff to Canmore [in December] because we’ve had a huge transition from being a country that shows up with only a few athletes,” he said of the early season World Cups. “We need to make sure we protect the chances of our top athletes to steal a medal and give the appropriate level of service to those developing athletes who are experiencing their first Paralympics. We’re looking forward to getting all those things dialed in.”
Nationals are held alongside the able-bodied U.S. Cross Country Championships at Soldier Hollow in January, followed by World Cup races in Oberstdorf, Germany.
In October, national-team coach James Upham accompanied four sit-skiers – Cnossen, Soule, Halsted, and Oksana Masters – at a U.S. Paralympics Nordic camp in Oberhof, Germany. It was the team’s first training camp in the ski tunnel there.
According to Farra, they’ll take six or seven athletes to Oberstdorf for the World Cup races from January 16-19.
“We’re going to bring a small elite group … who we feel need to be there to dial in their chances of winning medals in Sochi,” Farra said. “After Germany the team will hole up in Winter Park Colorado which will be good in terms of an altitude strategy. After that, we’ll head to Italy a week before the games and stay at a beautiful five-star resort on the top of a mountain with ski in ski out and a biathlon range, to relax a bit and get used to the time change before flying to Sochi.
“And that’s it,” he added. “We’ll be there and then we’ll be back here in March after we win a bunch of medals. Then we’ll come home and hang them up and enjoy them!”
About the Author:
FasterSkier’s Para-Nordic contributor, Mark Vosburgh lives in Missoula, Mont., where he works as a Wildfire Scientist for the US Forest Service. In addition to being a chemical engineer, Mark is a cross -country and backcountry skier, bluegrass musician, and biker. He’s also a freelance writer for numerous publications, including 48 Degrees North and MakeitMissoula.com.
Release Date: 13 November 2013
WASHINGTON – BP today announced that it will contribute $1 million to the U.S. Olympic Committee’s new Ted Stevens Sports Services Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. and to existing U.S. Paralympic programs.
“As a proud partner of the U.S. Olympic Committee, BP is honored to make this additional contribution on top of our existing multi-year, multi-million dollar commitment to Team USA,” said BP America Chairman and President, John Mingé. “BP’s more than 20,000 U.S. employees look forward to cheering on Team USA at the Sochi 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and beyond.”
Named in honor of the late Alaska senator, the Ted Stevens Sports Services Center will be at the heart of the modernized 35-acre Colorado Springs campus and provide world-class, technically-advanced training services for U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
BP has significant operations and more than 2,500 employees in Alaska and Colorado.
After construction is completed, the Sports Services Center will serve as the central hub of activity for all athletes who train, compete and reside on campus. The expanded facility will feature a new indoor agility field and weight-training area, enhanced sports medicine and recovery stations, improved physiology and altitude-training capabilities, and a new athlete-teaching kitchen. The Sports Services Center will also include new administrative meeting spaces and offices, and a multi-purpose classroom.
“I want to thank BP for this incredibly generous gift that helps our nation’s Olympic aspirations, while also honoring the Alaskan of the 20th Century, Ted Stevens,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “As much as Uncle Ted meant to our state and our people in helping us reach our potential, he also – through legislation, advocacy and his one-of-a-kind energy – was a national leader in boosting the profile and impact of the United States Olympic Committee. This gift lets us know that the next time we see our athletes on the medal stand, that Ted Stevens is standing alongside them.”
Having served in the U.S. Senate from 1968-2008, Stevens authored the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 and its subsequent amendments, which helped restructure the U.S. Olympic Movement in a way that has contributed to the success of America’s athletes, both on and off the field of play. Today, the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act protects individual athletes, and provides the USOC’s counsel and authority to oversee Olympic and Paralympic business in the United States.
"The Stevens family thanks BP, a long time supporter of the USOC, for its generous contribution and support of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes and Wounded Warriors," said Catherine Stevens, wife of the late U.S. Senator and president pro tempore of the Senate. "BP's gift is vital for our amateur athletes since, as Ted reminded us: 'In almost every other nation, Olympic and amateur sports receive substantial government funding. That is not true in our country.'”
“Ted would have been so humbled to know his name would be permanently associated with the development and training of our athletes,” Stevens added. “Everything he did, from authoring the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act to speaking out against boycotts and ensuring security for the Games, was about nurturing the competitive spirit and giving all athletes the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. Ted knew the Olympics were more than the games and pageantry -- they are about bringing people together, breaking down barriers and fostering understanding.”
In addition to supporting Olympic and Paralympic athletes, the Sports Services Center also will serve as a resource for disabled veterans. Of BP’s $1 million contribution, $250,000 will be dedicated to USOC’s existing Paralympic sports programs.
”We’re grateful for BP’s commitment to America’s elite athletes and to honoring Ted Stevens, a champion of Olympic and Paralympic sport in the U.S.,” said Scott Blackmun, USOC chief executive officer. “The Stevens Sports Services Center will stand as a tribute to his leadership and will serve American athletes as they work to achieve their goal of competing at the highest levels.”
BP America first announced its sponsorship of USOC and Team USA in February 2010, and in 2011 extended its partnership with the USOC as its official energy partner through 2016. In September, BP America announced that it will sponsor six U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes training for the Sochi 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The company is also supporting charities of the six athletes’ choice in addition to local sports clubs that often serve as training grounds for future Olympians and Paralympians. For more on the athletes and their inspirational stories, visit the BP Team USA Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/BPTeamUSA
About the USOC
Founded in 1894 and headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo., the U.S. Olympic Committee serves as both the National Olympic Committee and National Paralympic Committee for the United States. As such, the USOC is responsible for the training, entering and funding of U.S. teams for the Olympic, Paralympic, Youth Olympic, Pan American and Parapan American Games, while serving as a steward of the Olympic and Paralympic Movements throughout the country. For more information, visit TeamUSA.org.
Over the past five years, BP has invested more than $55 billion in the U.S. – more than any other energy company. BP is the nation’s second-largest producer of oil and gas and provides enough energy annually to light nearly the entire country for a year. Directly employing more than 20,000 people in all 50 states, BP supports more than 260,000 jobs total through all of its business activities. For more information, view our BP in the U.S. animated video: http://bit.ly/BPFuelsAmerica13.
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