With the call by Mike Brace CBE that ‘sport still has a long way to go to make disabled people feel fully included as competitors and spectators,’ winter sport, especially alpine ski racing is doing its bit in raising its game. Brace, the founder and chairman of Vision 2020 UK, the sports charity for people with visual impairments, said people with disabilities “don’t feel included in all aspects of sport yet.”
The recent IPC and Europa Cup races in Landgraaf, Holland showed that the talent and ability of the athletes are as impressive as the able-bodied racers. Risks were taken down the course by the racers as they looked to gain and eek out an advantage over their fellow racers. With three different categories, Visually Impaired, Standing and Sitting, to cater for those racing in Para sports, there is a method of equalising the times to balance out the disabilities against the clock. This is looked at over a six-year cycle so that if one looks like it is getting stronger the times are equalled out.
This balancing out does not take away from the excitement of the sport nor does it take away the courage the athletes show. From racers who have lost limbs to those sitting in sit skis to those who have varying degrees of sight. This is an area that Britain excels in having won a gold, four silvers and a bronze at the Sochi Paralympics. The courage a racer shows to ski courses like the Hahnenkamm is immense. Pit that against an athlete who has no sight and has to rely on following a guide and then those who follow their guide listening to directions given by their guide. Two racers in Landgraaf had no sight at all.
While some able-bodied races have suffered in recent years with numbers falling, 92 racers competed in the IPC races in Landgraaf. they came from across Europe and as far away as America and Canada. The camaraderie amongst the racers and the coaches was brilliant. Only a handful of the racers, Jamie Weller the administrator for Para-Snowsport GB explained, competed on the World Cup yet there were a number of medalists from the Sochi Paralympics.
Prior to the races in Landgraaf for three days, the athletes lined up to be classified. Some like the amputees are easy to do, the visually impaired are tested each year. The classification process looks at spasticity, muscle usage, the range of movement, amputations and their physical ability. From here there is a factoring process so that the athlete is placed in the right sub-class in their category. The visually impaired with degenerative conditions get tested each year
After going through the testing programme, the athletes are told whether they have been confirmed eligible, whether they need to be reviewed again next year
If you felt that the racers did not justify equal billing to able-bodied racers then think again. They may not have the same physical capabilities as able-bodied racers but they give their all. Para snowsport in the UK is on the rise: It is well organised and could give the set up of able bodied set up a lesson in how to run a programme that produces world class results.
So if your able bodied ski racing career is coming to a halt and you feel that you still want to get the buzz from racing, maybe being a guide could be for you? If you are interested in doing this contact James Redpath on firstname.lastname@example.org