The USA’s new men’s downhill sitting world champion Andrew Kurka has spoken of his confidence and determination for the coming Winter Paralympics which he believes will be ‘his year’ after a series of injuries.
The 25-year-old left the 2017 World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Tarvisio, Italy, with one medal of every colour, also finishing on the podium in super-G and giant slalom.
Kurka, who has broken his back a total of three times in his life - twice while competing, believes he has finally found his rhythm.
“My season’s been fantastic, I’ve been doing well in speed, finally getting back after it,” Kurka said. “After having a consistent year last year and having the first season without injury in the books I feel like it’s kept me on the right track toward getting a lot of consistent finishes, which in my case ends up with a lot of podiums. It’s a good step forward in my career and it can only get better from here.”
For the US athlete, claiming his first world title in the downhill in Tarvisio was also extra special.
“The gold in the downhill was a dream come true and it was step in the right direction for me. The downhill has always been my best event, my favourite event.”
Kurka was still keen to look towards the upcoming Test Event for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Paralympic Games, which runs from 9-18 March at the Jeongseong Alpine Centre.
“I am really looking forward to the Test Event, it’s a chance for me to get to know the hill and prepare for the hill.
“It’s also a chance to redeem myself from Sochi [2014 Winter Paralympics where he broke his back during a training run]. I’ve had a lot of injuries over the past few years, and I feel like PyeongChang is my year. I plan on staying consistent and doing what I know how to do, treating it like any other race and knowing that I can win it. I’m going into it with a calm confidence knowing that I can.”
After also finishing on the podium in two downhill World Cup races in Innerkrems, Austria, in January, Kurka has shown his potential to be a consistent top three finisher.
He knows that maintaining a good level will be the key to success.
“I think between now and PyeongChang I need to stay as consistent as possible and practice as hard as I can and be in the shape of my life. [I want to] go into it ready with confidence to know that I’ve done just as much if not more to be in the best shape possible to take gold.”
But Kurka is also aware he is not alone in a top quality field of athletes which is expanding all the time. Dutch youngster Jeroen Kampschreur is a prime example - he left Tarvisio with three world titles on his World Championships debut.
“Since I first started about four years ago, it has gotten a lot tighter and a lot more competitive,” Kurka said.
“It’s unusual in a race if everyone isn’t within a second; the top ten are usually within a second. It’s anyone’s race. Anyone can win it. Jeroen Kampschreur came in at 17 years old winning medals, it a very competitive sport.”
Kurka has more motivation than winning medals. Every time he trains and competes he has a wider mission in mind.
“All together I love it. It’s a situation that puts me in the spotlight to be able to help others and to be an example to others. And I feel like that’s something I was destined to do and I feel like that’s something important for a lot of athletes, especially in our situation with kids looking up to us.
“Para sport is something which I’m very passionate about, for young kids or people who have recently been injured to get a chance to see it. If anyone’s out there that knows someone in that situation, then get them in it because it can change their life.
“I feel like that’s what Para sport is really all about – it doesn’t just inspire lives and motivate people but it changes lives, it really does.”
The PyeongChang 2018 Test Event will take place between 9-18 March. Featuring some of the world’s best skiers keen to get a feel for the Paralympic venue, live results will be available at World Para Alpine Skiing’s website.