Right now, 11 Australian sporting heroes are pulling on their gloves and goggles to brave the Russian winter and try bringing home the gold from this year’s Winter Paralympics. But they’re up against some serious competition – a record 1,650 athletes will compete in Sochi, Russia.
Running between March 7 and March 16, this year’s Games will see contestants from 47 different countries duel it out in five sports: alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, ice sledge hockey and wheelchair curling. Athletes with similar impairments are grouped together in classes for their chosen sport to ensure their disability has less of an impact on the game’s outcome.
For instance, in Alpine skiing events, athletes from fourteen classes are allocated into one of three categories: standing, sitting and vision impaired. Then, a factoring system based on previous bests is applied to allow people with different abilities to compete.
Since the games’ inception in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden back in 1976, Australian Winter Paralympians have brought home 28 medals – a massive 19 more than the Winter Olympic team. This year’s team are well-placed for a win, with two of its eleven athletes ranked world number one: Mitchell Gourley in giant slalom and Jessica Gallagher for the slalom. A particularly talented member of the team, Jessica is the only athlete to have previously competed in both the summer and winter Paralympics, taking part in the long jump and javelin events in London in 2012.
For the first time, a Para-snowboarding event will join the Alpine skiing category this year, with three Australian athletes set to participate. Open to competitors with a physical injury like spinal injury or nerve damage, cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury, or limb loss, the event will see snowboarders complete three runs on a snowboard cross course with bank turns, jumps and rollers.
National grant partners of the Coca-Cola Australia Foundation, The Australian Paralympics Committee is hoping for a strong showing in Sochi. This year’s team will see the largest contingent of women in the Australian Paralympic winter squad, with four of the nine athletes competing women. It will also feature the country’s youngest-ever Paralympian, 14 year-old snowboarder Ben Tudhope, who suffers from cerebral palsy hemiplegia.
The 2014 Australian Paralympic Winter Team's Chef de Mission, Chris Nunn, said the Team as a whole is reaching its peak at the right time. “We have a very strong group of experienced, talented alpine skiers,” he said.
Australia's Paralympic Team
Alpine skiing – Jessica Gallagher, Christian Geiger (guide for Gallagher), Mitchell Gourley, Toby Kane, Victoria Pendergast, Melissa Perrine, Andrew Bor (guide for Perrine), Cameron Rahles-Rahbula.
Snowboard cross – Joany Badenhorst, Trent Milton, Ben Tudhope.