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Paralympic Sports: How The Athletes Adjust To Incredible Conditions

The Sochi Paralympics are well on their way, with Canada quickly moving up the medal count list.

While Canadians are cheering on Team Canada’s athletes, the technicalities of the games can be difficult to understand. Most of the sports and rules are similar to the Olympics, but there are changes made to provide equal opportunity for all Paralympians and their unique needs.

This year, the games have six sports – para-alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, ice sledge hockey, wheelchair curling and para-snowboarding, which is new to the Games this year.

Here are quick explanations of the sports Canadian Paralympians will be competing in until the end of the Paralympics, on March 16.

Alpine Skiing: There are five types of alpine skiing at the Paralympics – downhill, slalom, super giant slalom, giant slalom and super combined. Each type of alpine-skiing has three separate races and winners for different disabilities – visually impaired, standing and sitting.

Visually impaired: Visually impaired athletes ski with a guide behind or in front of them, who warns them of turns and other obstacles using audio cues and radio communication. Athletes who are only partially impaired must wear black-out goggles during the competition to level the playing field.

Standing: Some athletes with leg or arm amputations or impairments compete standing, with special poles or outriggers that help provide extra balance.

Sitting: Athletes with lower-limb amputations or paralysis use a sit-ski, a chair that includes a seat belt and other protection devices to prevent injuries.

Biathlon: The biathlon requires athletes to ski and shoot with precision. The event consists of a ski route, along which the athletes must also stop and shoot targets using rifles. There are three distances athletes can choose to compete at – long, medium and short. Like alpine skiing, the sport has three separate races for different disabilities.

Cross-Country Skiing: Different races are held for different impairments. There are three distances that athletes can choose to compete in – short, medium and long (ranging from 2.5 km to 20 km). There is also a team relay event.

Snowboarding: Although the International Paralympic Committee allows athletes with upper and lower limb disabilities to compete, the Sochi Paralympics only have competitions for athletes with lower limb amputations or disabilities.

Ice Sledge Hockey: Sledge hockey has the same rules as ice hockey, but instead of wearing skates, athletes sit in a two-blade sledge. They use two shorter hockey sticks, with a blade on one end and spikes on the other. Only athletes with lower body impairments qualify to play sledge hockey.

Wheelchair Curling: Wheelchair curling has minor differences from curling. For example, there is no sweeping allowed and each stone has to be thrown from a stationary wheelchair. Each team also has to have both genders at the Paralympics. Only athletes with significant lower body impairments, who usually require a wheelchair for mobility, are eligible to play.

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