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Stuart Lieberman: 2014 Paralympic predictions

The IPC’s Editorial Co-ordinator makes 14 bold sporting predictions for the upcoming year.

Canada's ice sledge hockey team Canada's ice sledge hockey team are the reigning world champions and will enter the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games as the tournament's No. 1 seed. © • Hockey Canada

With a new year underway that will include the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games and World Championships in several summer sports, it is time to look into the crystal ball.

With a new year underway that will include the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games and World Championships in several summer sports, it is time to look into the crystal ball.

Last year, I made a list of Paralympic predictions for the first time. And, well, I’ll let you be the judge on how those turned out …

I am feeling a bit more confident that these bold sporting predictions for 2014 have a better chance of panning out.

1. Russia’s Nordic skiing team will reign supreme on home snow in Sochi.

Let’s start with the obvious here. At the year’s prime event, the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, the host nation’s team will shine where they have had the most success recently – in cross-country skiing and biathlon. Remember these names: Roman Petushkov, Mikhalina Lysova, Nikolay Polukhin, Elena Remizova and Grigory Murygin.

2. Canada will dominate winter team sports.

The Canadians head into Sochi 2014 as the defending world champions in both wheelchair curling and ice sledge hockey. Look for Sonja Gaudet to lead the nation’s wheelchair curling team to their third consecutive Paralympic title, while Greg Westlake’s crew should be favoured to claim the ice sledge hockey title ahead of the USA and Russia.

3. Japan’s Shingo Kunieda will have one of the best years of his already historic wheelchair tennis career.

With a career singles record of 412-59 and three Paralympic titles to his name, Kunieda is already one of the best to play wheelchair tennis, but I think he is just hitting his prime. Kunieda, the ITF World Champion for the fifth time in 2013, has the potential to rule the Grand Slam events, this year beginning with January’s Australian Open.

4. Biban Mentel and Evan Strong will win the first Paralympic snowboard golds.

The Dutch woman and American man will be victorious in their sport’s Paralympic debut in Sochi and set the standard for future Games. Both won the sport’s Test Event in March 2013 and are eager to cement their place in history.

5. Move over Jessica Long and Ellie Simmonds, because Sophie Pascoe will become the face of women’s swimming.

The New Zealand swimmer, who turns 21 this month, is coming off a year in which she won five world titles and broke numerous world records in the pool. Despite being from a smaller country than Long or Simmonds, her talents will shine through to a global audience, making her one of the biggest international stories in the pool on the road to Rio 2016.

6. Marie Bochet and Jon Santacana – yes the injured one – will steal headlines on the Sochi slopes.

After winning five golds in the standing class at the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships, France’s Bochet is poised to become the biggest individual medal winner at Sochi 2014. Meanwhile, after being sidelined with an injury for more than sixth months, Spanish visually impaired star Santacana will make an epic comeback to claim multiple Paralympic titles. The latter storyline is a stretch, but you can never count out a visually impaired skier who is also a surfer and mountain biker.

7. The Agitos Foundation will make a giant leap in its quest to become the world’s leading organisation for developing sport activities for people with an impairment.

In late 2013, the Foundation launched its two main initiatives for the first time in the Grant Support Programme and the Organisational Capacity Programme. During 2014, expect to see several National Paralympic Committees and International Federations develop the tools and resources to establish the framework for future developments in the Paralympic Movement for years to come.

8. America will fall in love with Steve Cash, Josh Pauls and USA’s ice sledge hockey team thanks to NBC.

They go by “Money” and “Spuds” individually, but together, the St. Louis “Blues Brothers” are one of the most stealthy duos on the ice and behind the cameras. Cash is arguably the greatest sledge hockey goaltender in the world and Pauls is one of the top scorers, and with the USA airing the Paralympics on television for the first time, expect America to immediately connect to the winter sport they follow the closest.

9. Siamand Rahman will smash the 300kg mark at the IPC Powerlifting World Championships.

At April’s IPC Powerlifting World Championships in Dubai, UAE, Rahman of Iran will finally lift 300kg en route to winning gold. The London 2012 Paralympic gold medallist told the Tehran Times last month everything is falling into place for this to happen in Duabi, and thus far, his success in the sport has been unrivalled.

10. Pat Anderson will be back. For good.

The world’s best wheelchair basketball player keeps leaving the court and coming back, but with Canada having failed to qualify for this year’s World Championships, they need a spark to get them back on track. Anderson has expressed interest in returning to the team prior to the 2015 Parapan American Games in Toronto, so expect him to follow through on that this year.

11. Colombia’s Rodney Hawkins and Algeria’s Nabil Guedoun will become the year’s top rising stars.

These two wheelchair basketball players are some of the most underrated in the world in para-sport, but with both of them set to feature on the international stage at July’s World Championships, they’ll final get the recognition from the public that they deserve. They should both be stories to follow on the road to Rio 2016.

12. A European team will take the women’s wheelchair basketball crown.

While the women’s wheelchair basketball World Championships are headed to Canada, some of the strongest teams there should be Germany, the Netherlands, Great Britain and France. In fact, last year’s European gold-medal game between Germany and the Netherlands could also turn out to be the final game at the World Championships.

13. The Ryley Batt-Chuck Aoki rivalry will play out in full form at the IWRF Wheelchair Rugby World Championships.

Two of the world’s top scorers in wheelchair rugby will collide once again at August’s World Championships in Odense, Denmark. They have one of the quickest growing rivalries in para-sport, and after missing out on Paralympic gold at London 2012, expect Aoki and the Americans to come full force at Batt and the Australians this year.

14. Heinrich Popow or Scott Reardon will come awfully close to breaking the 12-second barrier.

Speaking of rivalries, this one could headline them all during the next Paralympic cycle for summer sports. After tying for 100m T42 gold at last year’s World Championships, the German and Australian sprinter are both attempting to run the distance in under 12 seconds this year for the first time. It may not happen in the next 12 months for sure, but they should come awfully close.