Ripping into the race season
It appears like one of the premiere events of the U.S. disabled ski season just got bigger. The Huntsman Cup, an International Ski Federation (FIS) NorAm race that welcomes disabled skiers from national teams around the world as well as giving promising juniors a chance to ski with some of the best, hosted almost 100 racers per day at Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) this past week, Jan. 3-5. The reason for the surge in numbers and competition was obvious. The race is one of the first in a season that will reach its peak in March at the 2006 Paralympics in Turin.
"A Paralympic year brings a definite emotion," said 2002 Paralympian and U.S. Ski Team member Sandy Dukat. Among the competitors were the United States Disabled Ski Team, the Park City Disabled Ski Team, racers from the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colo., as well as the national teams from various countries, such as Canada and Australia. "The racing is great up here. There are some of the best racers in the world all here," said NAC Executive Director and co-founder Meeche White. The event, hosted by The National Ability Center (NAC) and sponsored by the Huntsman Corporation, is in its 19th year. According to Brooke Hafets, Outreach Manager for the NAC, it is one of the most popular races of its kind. Its early scheduling and FIS status allows racers to collect points toward the World Cup and Paralympics, as well as see international competition before the World Cup season starts in Korea later this month. "There’s a lot more pressure on the athletes because of qualification requirements for the Paralympics and the World Cups," said U.S. Disabled Ski Team Head Coach Kevin Jardine. The event also allows younger skiers the opportunity to race among top skiers. "It gives me a lot of experience, everyone is just starting to race. It definitely pushes me a little," said mono-skier and Park City Disabled Ski Team member Greg Shaw. Australian racer Marty Mayberry said that his team comes to the Huntsman Cup because of the quality of the Park City experience. "It’s a good hill. It’s a great set-up and the town is accessible," said Mayberry, who skied PCMR as a child during family vacations. Snow conditions, though were less than desirable for the three-day event, a concern for many disabled skiers that must maintain a high level balance in their races, but both racers and organizers praised the PCMR race department and the Park City Ski Team for keeping the course well groomed. "If you can do it on a day like this . It’s a way to challenge your ability, challenge your balance," Dukat said. Even with a difficult course, many of the Americans seemed to find a way to win. The story of the event was the emergence of standing skier Brad Washburn from the Winter Park, Colo. program. The 19-year-old former junior star, who recently started training full-time, stormed onto the course, Tuesday’s slalom race and Wednesday’s giant slalom by huge margins. "I’m feeling good. I’ve been winning quite a lot," Washburn said. Washburn is hoping he can maintain his level of skiing until he reaches the Paralympic Games. "He’s been skiing very fast this season," said Jardine. "He’s won three out of four this season. Wednesday is the best giant slalom I’ve seen before going to the World Cups." There were plenty of other good performances as well. Dukat won the slalom and took second in the giant slalom. Dukat continues to focus on increasing her speed as she makes a run for her second Paralympic Games.
"Anything could happen between now and then," Dukat said. "I definitely feel like I’m moving forward. I really want to do well at every race, so when I’m at the gate in the Paralympics, I’m ready to go."
Ski Team member Monte Meier survived a small fall during Wednesday’s giant slalom to take second. He said the rough conditions forces skiers to work the ski for speed, which caused him to catch an edge.
"It’s just tough in these kinds of conditions," Meier said. "I’ll take it [second place]. It’s survival of the fittest out here."
Meier will likely be a lock for the Turin Paralympics but he enjoys the Huntsman race for the exposure it offers.
"We get a little taste of the international racers," Meier said. "Everyone’s hoping to go to the Paralympics. You can gauge yourself against international racers."
Meier was also excited to see the emergence of Washburn on the national scene.
"We’ve got some good guys coming up on the team. We’ve got some young blood. It’s good to see," said Meier who is getting married in the summer and will likely make this year’s Paralympics his last.
Competition has also increased because the Paralympics will now only award medals in three categories: standing, sitting and blind, rather than separate awards for each level of disability. Depending on the level of the disability, racers times are adjusted, but the new rules have definitely made the athletes work harder and attempt to race faster. World Cup medals have always been in only three categories. Jardine said that the U.S. proposed the change to encourage better skiing and add credibility to the sport. All of the athletes have some type of physical disability, such as blindness, spina bifida, paralyzation, or amputation. They compete on monoskis for those without use of their legs, a single ski for amputees or two skis and outriggers (long ski poles with small skis on the bottom) for amputees using prosthetic limbs. Blind skiers go down the mountain with skiing guides. The Huntsman Cup trophy goes to the best overall racer from the combined three days of racing. The overall winners were Washburn and Reinhild Moller of Germany.
For more information on the NAC’s disabled ski programs, log on to http://www.nac1985.org or call 435-649-3991. Complete results will appear in Wednesday’s scoreboard section.
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