Final races before the Games |

Final races before the Games

Paralympic medal favorite Allison Jones races down the slalom course at Park City Mountain Resort on Thursday afternoon at The Hartford U.S. Disabled National Championships.

Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) got a little taste of Paralympic greatness this past week as The Hartford U.S. Disabled National Championships rolled into town, bringing with it the U.S. Paralympic Team, which will heads to Italy next week.

"This is the national championships, but this is the prelude to the next few weeks said National Ability Center (NAC) executive director Meeche White.

Besides the Turin-bound team, the event also welcomed elite racers as young as 12 from all over the country, including teams from California, Colorado, New England and other cold weather locales.

According to White the national championships are the perfect time for future stars to shine.

"This is an opportunity for guys, not on the U.S. Team, to show their stuff and get noticed," White said.

Sam Blakely, 12, from Henefer is a few years away from the Paralympics, but felt that he had performed well in his first big competition.

"I’ve been doing well," said the North Summit Middle Schooler who earned a bronze medal earlier in the week.

The five-day competition featured a downhill race, a super G, slalom and giant slalom. White said that the PCMR race department did an excellent job of preparing the course to accommodate the needs of the disabled racers. Many parents and friends and sponsors, The Hartford and Key Bank, were on hand to cheer for the racers.

White also said the event was especially exciting, because it’s a Paralympic year.

"When you start watching the Olympics on TV, the whole Olympics bring excitement for the Paralympics," White said

White is expecting big things in Italy from 2002 silver-medallist Allison Jones, who dominated in the national championship races. The 21-year-old from Colorado Springs, Colo. is competing in her third Games and hopes to capture gold.

"I’m feeling pretty confident in the slalom and speed events for a podium," Jones said adding that the national finals are helping her in her preparation for the Olympics.

"I’m working on finessing everything and getting ready so I don’t have to worry in Italy," Jones said.

Jones is also looking forward to increased competition.

This year marks the first Paralympic Games under a three-class system sit-ski, stand-ski and blind. Previously there was a multi-class system in place that increased the numbers of medals handed out, but also decreased competition.

"It’s more competition, which makes the sport more worth it," Jones said.

Another American skier likely to have a gold medal around his neck in March is four-time Paralympian Monte Meier.

Meier, who lives in Park City, says that this is his final Games and hopes to end on a high note.

"That would be the ultimate highlight," Meier said.

Meier, a Paralympic gold medallist in the slalom, won the national championship in the event on Thursday. In World Cup, he says that he has had both disappointments and victories, but feels that things should come together in Turin.

"You have to have confidence in your skiing and you will be alright," Meier said.

Meier is also the reigning 2005 World Champion in Slalom.

Chris Devlin-Young, a sit-skier headed to Turin, also received many top honors at the national championships.

U.S. Disabled Ski Team Director Sandy Metzger says she is confident the U.S. Team will do well in Turin. She was happy the team had one last chance to compete with their fellow Americans.

"This is an important event, because they get to mingle with the developmental athletes and future candidates for the U.S. Disabled Ski Team," Metzger said.

Metzger says this year, the Paralympics are the main focus of the team and athletes and coaches have been working closely together make sure that they peak in Italy.

She is also excited about the classification change, because the U.S. has been working for many years to make the Paralympics more challenging and intense for their athletes.

"It’s important that the medals are valuable and worth it," Metzger said.

The Paralympic Team is also getting a lot of media attention as the Olympic frenzy reaches it’s high. They were featured on NBC’s The Today Show and ESPN2’s Cold Pizza this past week to create buzz leading into the Paralympics.

"It’s fun to watch [the Olympics] and know we will be on those courses and doing the same things in a couple of weeks," she said.

The team will compete in one more World Cup in Artesina, Italy before the Paralympics start on March 10.

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