Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Paralympics preview: Americans ready for Vancouver

BRIAN GOMEZ Updated: March 11, 2010 at 12:00 am

When: Today through March 21

Where: Vancouver, British Columbia

What: Nearly 600 disabled athletes from 44 countries, including 50 Americans, competing for 64 medals in five sports – Alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, sled hockey and wheelchair curling.

TV coverage: NBC will air a one-hour show recapping the Opening Ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday and a 2-hour show with Paralympic highlights at 1 p.m. April 10. Universal Sports will broadcast 2 hours of action from Monday through March 23, with coverage beginning each day at 4 p.m. and a replay each night at 9 p.m.

On the Web: Most Paralympic events will be shown live at www.paralympicsport.tv. Replays of events can be found at www.universalsports.com. Daily highlights and news recaps will be available at www.usparalympics.org.

 

REPRESENTING THE SPRINGS

Colorado Springs resident Allison Jones, born without a right femur, will compete in her fifth Paralympics – this is her third as an Alpine skier, and she’s also a road cyclist.

The 29-year-old University of Denver graduate is coming off a silver medal in the super combined and a bronze in the super-G at a World Cup in January in Sestriere, Italy. She won a gold in the slalom at the 2006 Paralympics and silvers in the super-G and the giant slalom in 2002. Alpine skier Monte Meier is the only other five-time U.S. Paralympian.

“Of course, I want to medal,” Jones said. “I always want to medal, but I know that if I get fourth place and I know I did everything I could possibly do, then I can’t ask for much more than that. All I ask for is a good race and a fun time.”

 

CARRYING THE FLAG

Aspen resident Heath Calhoun, an Alpine skier who lost his legs while serving in the Iraq war, was the U.S. flag bearer Friday at the Opening Ceremony.

Both of Calhoun’s legs were amputated above the knees after a rocket-propelled grenade struck his convoy in 2003 in Iraq, where Calhoun served as a squad leader for the 101st Airborne Division. The blast killed another solider, and Calhoun honors him by wearing a bracelet on his right wrist bearing his fallen comrade’s name and the date of the attack.

Nine months of rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington gave Calhoun, 30, the motivation to try disabled sports. Last year, he won a gold medal in the super-G and a silver in the slalom at the U.S. Paralympic Alpine national championships before marking a top-10 finish in the giant slalom at a World Cup in Vancouver.

Four other military veterans are competing at the Paralympics – Alpine skier Chris Devlin-Young of the Coast Guard, cross-country skier Sean Halsted of the Air Force, wheelchair curler Patrick McDonald of the Army and cross-country skier and biathlete Andy Soule of the Army who served in Operation Enduring Freedom.

“I feel like my military service was kind of left incomplete,” Calhoun said. “It was something that possibly could have ended up as a career for me, and it was taken out of my hands by the explosion that took my legs. … It can kind of give me some closure from start to finish, from starting in the military and finishing up here as a Paralympian.”

 

THE MEDAL RACE

Bouncing back is the name of the game for the Americans, who were seventh in the total-medal count with 12 in 2006 and tied for third in the gold-medal count with seven – a Paralympics dominated by Russia, the winner in total medals (33) and golds (13).

The U.S. last won the most medals in 2002, when it tallied 43 in Salt Lake City. It hasn’t won the most golds since 1992, when it had 19 in Tignes-Albertville, France. Expect a heavy push from Russia, as well as Germany, which recorded the most golds (17) in 2002, and the Ukraine, which netted the second-most medals (25) in 2006.

Of the 50 U.S. athletes, 33 are multiple Paralympians. There’s the most depth in Alpine skiing, led by 2006 slalom gold medalist Stephani Victor. The sled hockey team hopes to dethrone Canada and reclaim its 2002 gold, while the wheelchair curling team believes it can improve upon an eighth-place finish in 2006 behind skip Augusto “Goose” Perez.

“Probably in the 30-range is what it’s going to take to win the medal count,” U.S. Paralympics chief Charlie Huebner said. “We’re really focused on building a strong program, a competitive program that is consistently on the podium. … We feel we have a very competitive team.”

 

COLORADO CONNECTIONS

Monica Bascio, Evergreen, cross-country skiing

Heath Calhoun, Aspen, Alpine skiing

Nick Catanzarite, Winter Park, Alpine skiing

Ralph Green, Vail, Alpine skiing

Gerald Hayden, Winter Park, Alpine skiing

Ian Jansing, Winter Park, Alpine skiing

Allison Jones, Colorado Springs, Alpine skiing

Nikko Landeros, Berthoud, sled hockey

Luba Lowery, Denver, Alpine skiing

Hannah Pennington, Winter Park, Alpine skiing

George Sansonetis, Fraser, Alpine skiing

Brad Washburn, Winter Park, Alpine skiing

 

HE SAID IT …

“It will definitely be a different look. The leaders on this team will push it harder, and the coaching staff is definitely going to push it harder. Conditioning will be better. No one will outskate us.”

ANDY YOHE, U.S. SLED HOCKEY PLAYER

 

SHE SAID IT …

“The word is getting out. The Paralympics are becoming a bigger deal. It is the second-largest sporting event behind the Olympics, so it’s kind of hard to say, ‘We’re going to send our mediocre athletes over there.’ Let’s all represent.”

ALLISON JONES, COLORADO SPRINGS ALPINE SKIER

 

BY THE NUMBERS

12

Wins by the U.S. sled hockey team in 16 games this season

25

Worldwide TV networks carrying the Paralympics

248

Medals won by Americans at eight Winter Paralympics, including 91 golds

176,000

Tickets sold to the Paralympics, almost 70 percent of the total

32,000,000

Dollars spent by the Canadian government on the Paralympics

 

For more Olympic coverage, visit www.gazette.com/olympics

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