Paralympic Winter Sports

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Introduction

Winter sports for athletes with physical impairment gradually emerged after World War II, as large numbers of injured soldiers and civilians tried to return to their skiing activities. Early pioneers, such as double-leg amputee Sepp Zwicknagl from Austria, experimented with skiing using prostheses. Other innovations were seen in ski equipment design, such as three-track skiing using crutches. This led to the first course in three-track skiing in February 1948 that included 17 participants from all over Austria. By the 1970’s, cross-country skiing competitions began, and in 1974, the first-ever world championships were held in Grand Bornand, France. They featured Alpine and Nordic competitions for athletes with amputations and visual impairments. This eventually led to the first Paralympic Winter Games in 1976. At the first Paralympic Winter Games, competitions were held in alpine and cross-country skiing for amputee and visually impaired athletes. A demonstration was held in ice sledge racing.

Year Location Impairments Included
1976 Örnsköldsvik, Sweden Spinal injury
1980 Geilo, Norway Spinal injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
1984 Innsbruck, Austria Spinal injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
1988 Innsbruck, Austria Spinal injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
1992 Tignes-Albertville, France Spinal injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
1994 Lillehammer, Norway Spinal injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
1998 Nagano, Japan Spinal injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
2002 Salt Lake City, USA Spinal injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
2006 Torino, Italy Spinal injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
2010 Vancouver, Canada Spinal injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
2014 Sochi, Russia Spinal injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
2018 Pyeong Chang, Korea Spinal injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments
2022 Beijing, China Spinal Injury, Amputee, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Other Similar Impairments

Alpine Skiing

Following the end of the Second World War, there was a systematic development of ski sport for persons with an impairment as injured ex-servicemen returned to the sport they loved. In 1948, the first courses were offered. The first documented Championships for skiers with an impairment were held in Badgastein, Austria, in 1948 with 17 athletes taking part. Since 1950, events have been held around the world. The introduction of sit-ski allowed people in wheelchairs (paraplegics and double above-the-knee amputees) to begin to ski and race. The first Paralympic Winter Games took place in Örnsköldsvik in Sweden in 1976 and featured two alpine disciplines - slalom and giant slalom. Downhill was added to the Paralympic programme in 1984 in Innsbruck, Austria, and super-G was added in 1994 at Lillehammer, Norway. Sit-skiing was introduced as a demonstration sport at the Innsbruck 1984 Paralympics and became a medal event at the Nagano 1998 Paralympic Games.

Paralympic Alpine Skiing features six disciplines: Downhill, Slalom, Giant Salom, Super-G, Super Combined, and Team Events. Athletes combine speed and agility while racing down slopes at speeds of around 100km/h. Competition accommodates male and female athletes with a physical impairment such as spinal injury, cerebral palsy, amputation, les autres conditions and blindness/visual impairment. Athletes compete in three categories based on their functional ability, and a results calculation system allows athletes with different impairments to compete against each other. Skiers with blindness/visual impairment are guided through the course by sighted guides using signals to indicate the course to follow. Some athletes use equipment that is adapted to their needs including single ski, sit-ski or orthopaedic aids.

Nordic Skiing

Cross-country skiing first appeared at the 1976 inaugural Paralympic Winter Games in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. Men and women used the classical technique in all cross-country distances until skating was introduced by athletes at the Innsbruck 1984 Paralympic Winter Games. Since then, events have been split into two separate races: classical and free technique. Biathlon was introduced in Innsbruck in 1988 for athletes with a physical impairment, and in 1992, athletes with a visual impairment also became eligible to compete.

Biathlon

Biathlon was introduced in Innsbruck in 1988 for athletes with a physical impairment, and in 1992, athletes with a visual impairment also became eligible to compete. The events consist of a 2.0 or 2.5 km course skied three or five times in the free technique for a total race distance between 6-15 km. Between the two stages athletes must hit two targets located at a distance of 10m. Each miss is penalised by an increase in the overall route time. The most important success factor lies in the capability of alternating the skills of physical endurance and shooting accuracy during the competition. Athletes with visual impairment are assisted by acoustic signals, which depending on signal intensity, indicate when the athlete is on target. https://youtu.be/u5z1bQ82OKU

Cross Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing first appeared at the 1976 Winter Paralympic Games in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. The competition is open to athletes with a physical impairment and blindness/visual impairment. Depending on functional impairment, a competitor may use a sit-ski, a chair equipped with a pair of skis. Athletes with visual impairment compete in the event with a sighted guide. Male and female athletes compete in short distance, middle distance and long distance (ranging from 2.5km to 20km) or participate in a team relay using classical or free techniques. https://youtu.be/io8rdbVqEKQ

Curling

Wheelchair curling made its Paralympic debut in Torino in 2006. The sport is open to male and female athletes who have a physical impairment in the lower half of their body, including spinal-cord injuries, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and double-leg amputation. Teams are comprised of both men and women, and the sport is now practiced in 24 different countries. https://youtu.be/2KTRX6ApsWQ

Ice Hockey

A direct descendant of ice hockey, Para ice hockey was invented at a rehabilitation centre in Stockholm, Sweden, during the early 1960's by a group of Swedes who, despite their physical impairment, wanted to continue playing hockey. The men modified a metal frame sled, or sledge, with two regular-sized ice hockey skate blades that allowed the puck to pass underneath. Using round poles with bike handles for sticks, the men played without any goaltenders on a lake south of Stockholm. The sport caught on and, by 1969, Stockholm had a five-team league that included players with a physically impairment and able-bodied players. That same year, Stockholm hosted the first international Para ice hockey match between a local club team and one from Oslo, Norway. During the 1970's, teams from these two countries played once or twice a year. Several other countries began to establish teams, including Great Britain (1981), Canada (1982), USA (1990), Estonia and Japan (1993). Two Swedish national teams played an exhibition match at the inaugural Örnsköldsvik 1976 Paralympic Winter Games in Sweden. Para ice hockey did not become an official event until the Lillehammer 1994 Paralympic Winter Games.

Since its debut at the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Games, the Paralympic version of ice hockey has quickly become one of the largest attractions for spectators. It is fast-paced, highly physical and played by male and female athletes with a physical impairment in the lower part of the body. The sport is governed by the IPC with co-ordination by the World Para Ice Hockey Technical Committee. It follows the rules of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) with modifications. Instead of skates, players use double-blade sledges that allow the puck to pass beneath. Players use two sticks, which have a spike-end for pushing and a blade-end for shooting. As in ice hockey, each team attempts to outscore its opponent by shooting the puck across the ice and into the opposing team's goal while preventing the opposing team from scoring. Six players (including the goalkeeper) from each team are on the ice at one time. Double-blade sledges that allow the puck to pass underneath replace skates, and the players use sticks with a spike-end and a blade-end. Therefore, with a quick flip of the wrist, the players are able to propel themselves using the spikes and then play the puck using the blade-end of the sticks. A player may use two sticks with blades in order to facilitate stick handling and ambidextrous shooting. Ice sledge hockey games consist of three 15-minute periods.

https://youtu.be/RP38GZ6GaNE

Snowboard

The sport owes its success to the determination of a group of pioneering riders who in 2005 began their quest to have the sport included at the Paralympic Winter Games. After many years of campaigning, in 2012 it was announced that snowboard would make its debut at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games with two medal events in lower-limb impairment classifications for men and women in snowboard-cross time trial. A hugely successful debut which attracted worldwide media interest saw the Netherlands’ Bibian Mentel-Spee secure the women’s gold whilst US rider Evan Strong took the men’s. This thrust snowboard onto the global stage and in 2015, the first IPC Snowboard World Championships were held in La Molina, Spain. Here, banked slalom and snowboard-cross head-to-head were contested for the first time, whilst the lower-limb impaired classifications were split and upper-limb impaired riders also competed for coveted world titles.

Para Snowboard is practiced worldwide and features three disciplines: snowboard-cross, banked slalom and giant slalom. Athletes combine speed and agility while racing down courses as fast as possible. Competition includes male and female athletes with a physical impairment such as spinal injury, cerebral palsy and amputation. Athletes compete in three categories based on their functional ability – SB-LL1 and SB-LL2 for lower-limb impaired riders and SB-UL for upper-limb impaired athletes. Snowboarders use equipment that is adapted to their needs including snowboard and orthopaedic aids. The sport made its debut at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games with two medal events in women’s and men’s snowboard-cross.

Banked Slalom Each athlete competes three runs down the course with their best run determining the final order based on ascending time. There is only one rider on the course at a time. The course may be a medium pitched slope. It may be preferably a naturally varying terrain, with plenty of bumps and dips, and preferably a U-shape/natural valley

Snowboard-Cross (Head-to-Head) During qualification, each athlete completes three runs down the course with their best run determining the final order based on ascending time. There is only one rider on the course at a time during qualification.Finals consist of 16 men and eight women, with two competitors per heat or such other numbers as determined by the Jury. The ideal snowboard-cross may allow the construction of any features excluding: gap jumps, corner jumps, spines and double spines, cutting banks, giant slalom turns and negative banks.

Snowboard-Cross (Time-Trial) Each athlete competes three runs down the course with their best run determining the final order based on ascending time. There is only one rider on the course at a time. As with head-to-head, the event takes place on a man-made course constructed from a variety of terrain features like bank turns. The course design is also the same as head-to-head.

Giant Slalom Each athlete competes two runs down the course with the combined time determining the final order. There is only one rider on the course at a time. General characteristics and terrain of the course include a medium pitched slope, preferably with various grades. The course may be perfectly groomed and the snow surface may be compacted.

Resources

References

  1. Paralympics. How to: para-alpine skiing visually impaired category. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kcdz2WBkl4[last accessed 30/06/19]
  2. Paralympics. How to: Para-alpine skiing - sitting category. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=by6-ldGgzm0[last accessed 30/06/19]
  3. Paralympics. How to: para-alpine skiing standing category. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvlGgh3AcNE[last accessed 30/06/19]