Sochi 2014: prepare for more triumphs of human endeavour
The Paralympics turned so many assumptions on their heads it’s easy to forget where we were a few years ago.
The Sochi Games start in Russia in a few months and do not doubt that eyes will be opened and jaws will drop once again.
Especially for Brits, who – apologies to Eddie “the eagle” Edwards – aren’t known for their winter sports prowess.
Mountains aren’t the easiest of places to negotiate at the best of times. But how on earth do you ski – let alone race – if you don’t have the use of your legs? Or don’t have legs at all? Or can’t see?
The fact is that it’s actually pretty straightforward. Not easy. But straightforward. Because just like riding a handbike, or racing a chair, or running in blades, there’s oodles of kit out there that can help get you up and down the mountain, and if you should so choose, at speeds verging on the suicidal. And that’s where the distinction between disabled, and non-disabled skier ends. Right there.
Anna Turney broke her back a few years ago in a snowboarding accident. But it doesn’t appear to have put her off. She just can’t get enough of the mountains. “When I ski I’m not a wheelchair user. I’m an athlete! It’s an amazing feeling powering the ski. I just love it!”
Anna’s on the verge of Paralympic qualification for GB in the sitting classification. She uses a mono, or ‘sit’ ski. It’s a carbon fibre chair attached to a ski using motorcycle suspension.
“The way you power the ski round the corners, carving, that feels just the way it would on a ski or on a snowboard.”
Kit is all important in the world of disability sport. For Kelly Gallagher the most precious piece of equipment is her guide: Charlotte Evans. Kelly’s vision is impaired – so Charlotte skis just a few yards ahead of her in a high-visibility jacket – at speeds of up to 70mph. They talk to each other on a Bluetooth radio built into their helmets.
Kelly narrowly missed out on a medal at the last Paralympics. She’s being pushed hard in the visually impaired classification by one of the new kids at the GB starting gate – 22 year old Jade Etherington, and her guide Caroline Powell.
Competition, as any athlete will tell you, keeps you sharp. They’ll all know in January if they’ve made the GB team for Sochi.
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