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Paralympic sports - 06. January 2014.

Para-alpine racers chase Paralympic dreams at Panorama IPC World Cup

More than 100 of the best para-alpine athletes from 20 countries will lay everything on the line this week in Panorama Mountain Village, B.C., at Canada’s only IPC (International Paralympic Committee) Alpine World Cup as they battle for top spot on the podium and the chance to qualify for the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games.

Some members of the Canadian Para-Alpine Ski Team have already met the criteria for nomination to Canada’s Paralympic team but for others the Panorama IPC Alpine World Cup represents a golden opportunity to punch their ticket to Sochi, Russia.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for Panorama/Invermere and for Sochi-bound athletes,” said Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, Coralee Oakes. “It’s an important event in the lead-up to the 2014 Paralympic Games that will allow athletes to test their skills  and in some cases, race to qualify. B.C. athletes have excelled at past winter Olympic and Paralympic Games and I know they will appreciate the support from the home crowd. It’s also a major momentum-builder as Panorama gets set to host the 2015 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships next winter.”

The Panorama IPC World Cup is the largest para-alpine event in the nation, and Canadian athletes are eager tocapitalize on home-snow advantage. Teams will train in Panorama Jan. 8-9, and race in downhill, super combined, super-G and giant slalom from Jan. 10-14.

“I’m really excited to race,” said sit-skier Josh Dueck, returning to World Cup action after a break in the schedule following the season-opening races in the southern hemisphere. “In New Zealand we were at a different stage of prep. I wasn’t feeling as ready as I am now for the season. I feel like I’m in a lot better position. I’m really looking forward to race.”

The Kimberley, B.C, native is no stranger to skiing in the Purcells.

“Growing up in the Kootenays, I’ve always had a synergy with the snow and the conditions and the valley, and Ithink the track is going to be suited to those of us who like to go fast.”

Dueck brought home a silver medal for Canada in slalom at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games and finished fifth in the downhill. The X Games medallist, who gained international acclaim in 2012 for becoming the first person to complete a backflip in a sit-ski, has already met qualification criteria to be nominated to the Paralympic team heading to Russia, but he’s hoping to seal the deal with some strong downhill results in Panorama.

“We don’t have a lot of speed events throughout the year, so to have a couple of back-to-back downhills and a super-combined all in a row, it’s going to really help out with the qualifying process for Sochi.”

Canada’s roster of athletes for Panorama is a mix of veteran Paralympians and World Cup and world championship medallists, combined with up-and-coming young guns looking to make their mark on the World Cup circuit. The Canadian para-alpine team racked up 14 medals at last year’s world championships in La Molina, Spain — more than any other country in attendance — and is looking to build on the momentum created by last season’s successes.

Dueck will be joined in Panorama by teammates and fellow sit-skiers Caleb Brousseau, from Terrace, B.C., and Rossland, B.C.’s Kimberly Joines. Matt Hallat, of Coquitlam, B.C., Duncan, B.C.’s Braydon Luscombe, Kirk Schornstein, from Spruce Grove, Alta., and AlexandraStarker, from Calgary, Alta., will represent the standing category, while Mac Marcoux, of Sault-Ste Marie, Ont. (guided by older brother BJ Marcoux), will be the only Canadian visually-impaired athlete competing.

Prospect athletes Kurt Oatway, from Calgary, Alta., Alex Cairns from Squamish, B.C., as well as brothers Ben and Jeff Thompson, of Whistler, B.C., will compete in the sitting category, while prospect athletes Erin Latimer, of Etobicoke, Ont., and Alana Ramsay of Calgary, Alta., will join Starker in the women’s standing category.

Although the Canadian Paralympic Team won’t be officially announced until February, many of Canada’s national team athletes met qualifying criteria last year at the season-opening IPC World Cup races in New Zealand in August.

In addition to Dueck, the athletes who have pre-qualified are standing skiers Hallat, Luscombe, Schornstein, and Starker, as well as visually-impaired athlete Mac Marcoux, and sit-skier and prospect athlete Oatway. Joines and Brousseau, who missed out on qualifying races in New Zealand due primarily to injury, are still looking to qualify.

In order to qualify for nomination, in general athletes need to earn two finishes in either the top 6 or top 12, depending on which category they compete in. The top-6 or top-12results must be within a certain percentage of the winning time, and one ofthose finishes must be achieved in the 2013-14 season.

Joines, a sit-skier and Paralympian whose last Paralympics was at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, will be making a return to the World Cup circuit in Panorama following a shoulder injury sustained in training at last season’s test event in Sochi, Russia. Formerly an all-rounder, Joines will focus on technical events onlythis year, so she will be shooting for a top-6 finish in giant slalom at Panorama. Fellow sit-skier Brousseau needs a top-12 finish.

Chris Williamson, a two-time world champion with more than 100 IPC World Cup podiums, broke his leg while training in August and won’t be competing in Panorama, but is aiming for a return to snow in time to prepare for Sochi. The visually-impaired skier and three-time Paralympian has qualified based on previous results.

The Canadian squad will be gunning for extra speed on a brand-new downhill track of international quality that has been built in advance of the 2015 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships, which will also be held in Panorama.

The course was constructed in partnership with the Government of British Columbia, Panorama Mountain Village and Alpine Canada, and features an 800-metre vertical drop, sections on which athletes are expected to reach speeds greater than 120 kilometres per hour, technical portions where quick-thinking and skill reign, and an expanded staging area to accommodate para-alpine equipment.

“To have a track of this quality in Canada is very exciting,” said Brianne Law, athletic director of the Canadian Para-Alpine Ski Team. “It was built for the world championships that Panorama will be hosting next year, and I’m excited to see the athletes racing on it. This is the type of course that can raise the level of alpine and para-alpine racing in North America and beyond.”

Both para-alpine and alpine provincial, national and international athletes will use it to train and race.

“A lot of planning and forethought has gone into the building of the track — widening runs, removing trees, and installing some added safety features,” added Law. “It’s fast, it’s challenging, and I have no doubt that it will create some super exciting racing. The cooperation from Panorama Mountain Village and our Government funding partners has been instrumental in the process, and really, we couldn’t ask for more.

“The Canadian team is coming off of some solid results at the last World Cup in New Zealand,” Law said of the team’s five-medal showing, including three gold. “At Panorama we’ll be focusing on continuing to build momentum heading towards the Paralympics in March.”

“We’re absolutely thrilled to be hosting yet another international race event, this time on a brand-new race course," added Steve Paccagnan, CEO of Panorama Mountain Village. "We’ve put a ton of resources into making the course perfect for World Cup calibre racing and our resort facilities lend themselves well to athletes in between races."
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