Lillehammer is ready to make history as the first World Para Snow Sports Championships kicks off on Thursday (13 January) with Para alpine skiing downhill and Para cross-country middle-distance events.
Friday marks the opening day in Para snowboard and Saturday will see the first Para biathlon medallists.
Around 850 athletes from 42 nations will compete in 87 medal events at Lillehammer 2021. Initially scheduled to take place in February last year, the Worlds was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic keeping the same name. The competition will take place until 23 January.
This is the first time the World Championships of all Para snow sports take place at the same time in the same host city. Lillehammer 2021 will also be the biggest Para sport event to take place in Norway since the 1994 Paralympic Winter Games.
“I was only 5 but I still remember the Games. It was kind of a mood all over the country and the images of all the mountains here are iconic to us,” said Norwegian Para Nordic skiing star Birgit Skarstein, who now hopes to inspire a new generation: “Events like the World Championships are really important to show the sport to new audiences and I am really excited to have it here in Norway. It is also great to see a new generation of athletes in action.”
Raising the bar
Another milestone set by Lillehammer 2021 is that for the first time the World Championships will offer prize money to medallists with a total prize pot of 170,000 Euro offered by the Local Organising Committee (LOC) and their partners DNB Bank and VI Foundation.
“It raises the bar and I am really excited about that. It changes the plans and the playing field, as people will come into the championships even more competitive,” said USA’s Paralympic champion sit-skier Andrew Kurka who will be aiming for his second World Championships gold in downhill on Thursday.
“The way they set the track is quite technical and quite difficult. It is definitely everybody’s game and people with more experience won’t have the advantages they generally would, I am looking forward to seeing how it goes,” Kurka added.
The women’s vision impaired (VI) will kick off the races in Hafjell followed by women’s standing and sitting events. Then it will be time for the men’s VI and standing races while Kurka will be facing home favourite Jesper Pedersen in the final event of day one, the men’s sitting race.
“It is cool to have the World Championships coming to the place where you train every day. It is really different and special. In the first downhill training I had a little advantage with me knowing the course, but now we stand in equal position,” Pedersen said.
Champions crowned in front of Crown Prince
One of the most iconic cross-country skiing venues in the world, the Birkebeineren Ski and Biathlon Stadium will crown six new world champions on Thursday in front of a special guest, Norway's Crown Prince Haakon.
The men’s 12,5km classic standing and vision impaired will open the programme followed by the women’s 10km classic standing and VI. The men’s 10km and women’s 7.5km sitting will be the final podiums of the day.
For another local star, a medal will have the taste of a birthday gift.
"It is nice to be competing here when I have my birthday. Lillehammer is very special, the whole city has culture of winter sports especially in cross-country, it is different than any other place in Norway and in the world," said VI skier Vilde Nilsen who turned 21 on Wednesday. "I think the World Championships will be the best platform to show everybody that Para sport is cool and amazing."
Dual banked slalom debut
Six medals will also be up for grabs on day one in Para snowboard on Friday (14) marking the first-time dual banked slalom events take place in the World Championships. It will also be the first Para Snowboard Worlds to be broadcast and streamed live.
"You can tell people what our sport is but to show it to them is something completely different, I hope they will see how cool it is. If there is one person at home with a disability seeing what we do and feeling inspired then it is amazing," said Dutch rider Lisa Bunschoten who will be aiming to defend her title in the Hafjell mountains. "I am a double-world champion now and my biggest goal here is to get the gold."
All events of the Lillehammer 2021 World Championships will be streamed live on World Para Snow Sports Facebook page and Para alpine skiing, Para Nordic skiing and Para snowboard websites.
Pictures for editorial purposes will be available on Flickr.