Downhill races to kick off alpine skiing in Sochi

France’s Marie Bochet and Spain's Jon Santacana Maiztegui are hoping to claim downhill golds on the first day of the Sochi 2014 Paralympics. 07 Mar 2014
Marie Bochet

France's Marie Bochet is expexted to star at the Sochi 2014 Paralympics in the women's standing class.

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By Justin A. Rice | For the IPC

Perhaps the most anticipated event of the opening day is the men’s downhill visually impaired race, which features defending Paralympic champion Jon Santacana Maiztegui of Spain.

The sport with the most participants at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, alpine skiing, will finally hit the slopes at 10:00 (MSK) on Saturday (8 March) at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre in the downhill competition.

Contesting 30 medals over eight days, the 200 alpine skiers in Sochi are sure to produce a high-octane adrenaline rush for ski fans.

“It’s crazy to be here, we waited so long during the last four years so it’s crazy to be in Sochi beginning today,” France’s Marie Bochet said.

“It’s crazy. But I won’t realise it until the first race.”

Bochet, who swept all five events she competed in at the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships in La Molina, Spain, will take her first official run at 10:15 (MSK) in the women’s downhill standing event.

The 20-year-old sensation’s biggest rival is Germany’s four-time Paralympic medallist Andrea Rothfuss, who finished behind Bochet in every event at last year’s World Championships.

The women’s downhill sitting and visually impaired races, along with the men’s downhill sitting, standing and visually impaired events will also be contested on Saturday.

Perhaps the most anticipated event of the opening day is the men’s downhill visually impaired race, which features defending Paralympic champion Jon Santacana Maiztegui of Spain. The three-time Paralympian with two gold medals and a total of four Paralympic medals recently returned from an Achilles tendon injury that sidelined him for six months.

But he will face a stiff challenge from Italy’s Alessandro Daldoss, who just won the 2013-14 IPC Alpine Skiing men's overall title for the season. Slovakia’s Jakub Krako will be in the mix for a medal as well.

The women’s visually impaired races in the downhill will give fans their first glimpse of the speedy trio of Slovakia’s Henrieta Farkasova, Russia’s Aleksandra Frantceva and Great Britain’s Kelly Gallagher. Farkasova, the reigning world champion in the event and Paralympic silver medallist, is expected to lead the field.

Meanwhile, in the day’s first race, the women’s downhill sitting, the USA’s Alana Nichols will look to defend her title from four years ago. Paralysed from the waist down by a 2002 snowboarding accident, Nichols won a gold medal in wheelchair basketball at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics. Two years later she became the first female athlete to win gold in the summer and winter Paralympics when she earned four medals at Vancouver 2010, including gold in giant slalom.

To defend her title, the second-ranked Nichols will have to defeat top-ranked Anna Schaffelhuber of Germany and Claudia Loesch of Austria.

Australia’s flag bearer and world champion Cameron Rahles-Rahbula pulled out of the men’s downhill standing event after fracturing his tibia during a crash on a training run earlier this week.

But another Opening Ceremony flag bearer, France’s five-time world champion Vincent Gauthier-Manuel, heads into the men’s downhill standing as one of the favourites, going up against Austria’s Markus Salcher, who is the world champion in the standing class. Russia’s Alexey Bugaev will also be in contention, as the 16-year-old aims to claim the host nation’s first gold of the Games.

The men’s sitting class will see Japan’s Taiki Morii and Takeshi Suzuki rival each other on the slopes, with Morii one of the favourites for gold after claiming silver in the event at Vancouver 2010.