Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Unfortunately, Sledge Hockey does not mean Hockey with Sledge Hammers

Let's talk about the Paralympics!

We already gave some brief mention to the Paralympics, but they really deserve more love. Unfortunately, most folks don't mention the Paralympics in discussions about the Olympics, when really, these athletes are at least as deserving of heaps of glory. (Not just because the International Paralympics Committee's website is better designed than the IOC's flashy, unnavigable mess.)

I mean, have you SEEN the movie Murderball?? Holy shit, those athletes are AWESOME.


Since the Winter Games are coming upon us, we'll focus on the four Winter Paralympic Sports.

Alpine Skiing:
In both the Paralympics and the Olympics, Alpine Skiing means skiing down a hill that would certainly make me wet myself. Athletes in the Paralympics compete in Downhill, Super-G, Super Combined, the Giant Slalom, and the Slalom (the normal, everyday Slalom, apparently). These events all take place in the Olympics as well, and in both cases there are competitions for men and women. In the Paralympics there are also specific categories for standing skiers, sitting skiers, and visually impaired skiers.

Are there special rules? You bet! "Skiers on one ski are not allowed to use the free limb in contact with the snow to gain speed or to keep balance."

Visually impaired skiers "must wear blacked-out goggles during the competition." They use the same equipment as Olympic skiers (other than the blacked out goggles, of course), and have guides who can communicate only by voice and radio communication.

Oh man. Hard core.

Nordic Ski:
Paralympic Nordic Skiing has two categories: Biathlon and Cross-Country Skiing. Again, it's broken down into standing, sitting, and visually impaired. In contrast with the Paralympic Downhill Skiers, standing Nordic Skiers use the same equipment as able-bodied skiers-- no nifty mini ski-sticks for them! (Nifty mini ski-sticks is not what they are called, but I believe deeply that by coming up with that phrase I have begun my career as a Paralympic Equipment Marketing Consultant. Look for the ad campaign.) Sit skiers use a sit-ski-- really. It's a ski... where you sit. Visually impaired skiiers again have a guide that can guide them through voice or radio.

Nordic Sit Skier: Better than you at everything.

The Biathlon is made up of two events: skiing and shooting. In the Paralympics, all shooters must fire their guns from a prone position. Also? This little exciting nugget from the Vancouver 2010 Paralympics web page: "Visually impaired skiers use an acoustic system for shooting that uses differing tones as the rifle is aimed toward the bull’s eye." OH MAN acoustic aiming!

Wheelchair Curling:
Someday soon we will have a post about Curling, affectionately known as Chess on Ice (no really), because I love it so. Who doesn't love Chess on Ice? You must have a heart made from a stone (and not granite, for that is what a curling stone is made of) to not love Chess on Ice. For now, this is all you need to know: Wheelchair Curling differs in two ways from Non-Wheelchair Curling. First, the athletes are in wheelchairs (I KNOW CRAZY RIGHT?). Second, no sweeping. In the case of Wheelchair Curling, delivering the stone is where the magic happens.

Ice Sledge Hockey:
This is actually one of the first sports adapted such that folks without full use of their legs could continue playing it. It predates wheelchair basketball and murderball. The international rules are essentially the same as Ice Skate Hockey and modeled specifically from the Canadian rules. The equipment is slightly different, of course. The skates have been replaced with a sledge and athletes use two hockey sticks. One is used mainly for propelling along the ice, and the puck handling stick is shorter, straight, and has picks on the end for even more propelling action.

Unfortunately, no sledge hammers in Sledge Hockey.

Also? Sledge hockey brawls. You'd better believe they exist.

Occasionally, people get weird about the Paralympics. They're not as popular as the Olympics, they don't happen at the same time, and some folks say they don't serve any purpose. Either the athletes should compete against "real" athletes or they should stay home. If you ever hear anyone talking like that, here's what to do. Tell them about the 2014 British Paralympic hopefuls. Here are three guys, all veterans of either Iraq or Afghanistan, all maimed in the line of duty. What are they doing now? Serving their country with four skis between them.

I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for a story about overcoming adversity with the Olympic Spirit (TM). And that's how it's done, folks. Paralympians deserve nothing more and nothing less than our respect as serious athletes and competitors. We'll be keeping an eye on the Paralympics as well as the Olympics here on Mount Olympics. I hope you'll do the same.

Image sources:
Vancouver 2010 Paralympic website

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