New look team take to slopes

A new era of Paralympic winter sport will begin this week when a fresh look Australian Winter team takes to the slopes of Vail, Colorado for intensive training ahead of the 2011 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Championships in Sestriere, Italy in January.

A different look team to the one that brought home four medals from the Vancouver Paralympic Winter Games earlier this year will use the stint in Vail for vital competition training, after a significant respite from the snow since the Games’ conclusion in March. 

Since then, three of Australia’s nine Paralympic alpine skiers who competed in Vancouver have hung up their skis. With more than 25 years of competing at the international level between them, Vancouver silver medallist Marty Mayberry, sit-skier Shannon Dallas and vision impaired skier Bart Bunting have retired, while bronze medallist Jessica Gallagher has returned to athletics, making way for a new crop of winter athletes in Sochi in 2014.

Australian Head Coach Steve Graham says the team’s focus has shifted to development rather than improving at the high performance end of alpine skiing.

“We now have a new era of Paralympic winter sport upon us and coming off the back of the Vancouver Paralympics and with four years before Sochi, we are currently in a building phase, focusing on developing up and coming skiers,” Graham said.

“As well as our four elite athletes, we are taking four new athletes to Vail for the first time. They were found through the APC’s talent search program and at this stage are real unknowns but show potential for growth.

“The elite, high performance end of the program has been stripped down at this stage to help build and strengthen these developing athletes.”

After training in Vail, Graham is optimistic in Vancouver dual-bronze medallist Cameron Rahles-Rahbula and Paralympic bronze medallist Toby Kane’s minor medal chances at the World Championships, despite the pair both still recovering from injury.

“Cameron and Toby haven’t seen much snow since Vancouver so it will be interesting to see how they perform in Sestriere. The North America Cup Series in Vail will be a good indication of how they are recovering.”

Vancouver Paralympian Melissa Perrine is also recovering from a fractured pelvis but remains a minor medal chance in the women’s vision impaired B2 class, with her sighted guide Andy Bor.

Fellow Vancouver Paralympian Mitchell Gourley completes the close-knit elite group of four athletes and one guide, when he contests all five events in the downhill, super G, super combined, slalom and giant slalom.

“The course in Sestriere is very flat and Mitchell, who is an arm amputee, is only small. He will struggle to medal in his LW6/8-2 class but continues to develop as an athlete,” Graham said.

Through a partnership with Disabled WinterSport Australia (DWA), the APC is now better able to manage and grow Australian winter sport for athletes with a disability through Athlete Development Program camps. In conjunction with DWA, the APC’s winter program is benefitting from extended technical knowledge as well as greater access to equipment and training facilities.

By Rebekka Wake
Posted 9/12/2010

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