Ptaszkowa, Poland will host three Para Nordic races from Friday to Sunday (19-21 February) as part of the first Europa Cup held since similar events were organised in the 1990s. The upcoming event is an effort to further grow Para Nordic skiing and give lower level athletes racing experience.
The Europa Cup in Ptaszkowa will feature three cross-country events with athletes from Poland and Croatia to take part.
“A typical model for developing athletes includes a progression of competitions from a local level to the highest international competition, in our case the Paralympic Winter Games. Athletes have the opportunity at each level to improve their skills, gain experience, and achieve success before moving on to the next level,” said Rob Walsh, chairperson of the World Para Nordic Skiing’s Sport Technical Committee (STC).
“Regional races such as a Europa Cup welcome athletes to compete internationally and to develop, on and off the tracks, as part of their journey to qualify for and succeed at the World Cup level.”
While there were no Europa Cup competitions held before in Para Nordic skiing, similar events, called the Alpen Cup, took place in Europe in the 1990s. Austria, Italy, Germany, France and Switzerland had large Para Nordic teams at this time and the Alpen Cups were organised to give them racing opportunities, usually with one event held in each country.
A few other nations have also taken part in the Alpen Cup, including the Russian team, with long-time coach Irina Gromova at the helm.
“We have had Irina Gromova driving in a small bus from Moscow to Lenk in Switzerland with two athletes but no real ski gear. So we first had to organise equipment for them. A few years later they all beat us at Paralympic Winter Games!” recalled Hans-Peter Neeser, who at that time was the coach of the Swiss team and who has been involved with World Para Nordic Skiing for many years in various roles, including as a technical delegate at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games.
The goal of the Alpen Cup was to help skiers with impairments compete against each other at nearby venues as well as to give athletes who are at a lower level the chance to start racing. But as more World Cup competitions were organised and the numbers of athletes in Central Europe dwindled, the Alpen Cup eventually disappeared.
The upcoming Europa Cup in Poland revives the tradition of these Alpen Cups in an effort to bring more Para Nordic skiers to higher-tier competitions.