Paralympic Winter Games
9-18 March

Walsh hails Sochi 2014 a success and plans for the future

Rob Walsh, the Chairperson of the IPC Nordic Skiing Sport Technical Committee has hailed the Games as a huge success and highlighted an area that can make the PyeongChang 2018 Games even better. 28 Apr 2014
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Agitos at  Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Centre

The Paralympic Agitos sit on display at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Centre at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

ⒸGetty Images
By IPC

“The Paralympics getting more recognition and greater awareness on TV attracts potential athletes. This means in the future there will be a greater pool of athletes to choose from and also it improves the support for those athletes who train and compete.”

In Sochi, around 170 athletes competed in 38 medal events at the spectacular Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Centre in front of vocal capacity crowds and millions of TV viewers around the world. Russia topped the medals table claiming 25 of the 38 Nordic skiing gold medals available.

Walsh said: “The Sochi Paralympics were excellent and the quality of the competition was really good. It was evident that we had good, well prepared athletes which led to some exciting races.

“We had great spectator attendance which helped the atmosphere in the whole venue and the facilities and organisation was really good. We did have some challenges with the weather and the snow condition, but the team there – the IPC officials and the organising committee – worked together to do a superb job.”

Walsh was also delighted at the level of media coverage the Sochi 2014 Games received around the world, in particular in his native US where NBC and NBC Sports Network broadcast the Games live for the very first time.

“In the same way London 2012 introduced the summer Paralympics to many new people, I think Sochi did the same for winter sports.

“I think advertising the Paralympics during NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, together with their coverage of the Games, certainly helped to raise awareness in America.

“The Paralympics getting more recognition and greater awareness on TV attracts potential athletes. This means in the future there will be a greater pool of athletes to choose from and also it improves the support for those athletes who train and compete.”

Of the 38 medal events that took place over eight days of competition, Walsh picked out Helene Ripa of Sweden’s victory in the women’s 15km standing race as his standout moment of the Games. The Swede won gold by less than four seconds from Ukraine’s Iuliia Batenkova in a thrilling finish.

“It was a beautiful sunny day in Sochi and we had a big crowd in the stands. That race came down to two athletes and I think the time difference was just a few seconds between gold and silver,” explained Walsh.

“Watching it on the big screen and listening to the commentator’s updates, you knew it was a close race. As Ripa came round into the finish everyone was watching the clock to see if she ended up with gold or silver.

“It was a really exciting finish and was how the sport should be. It’s good for the athletes, good for the spectators and the TV viewers at home. It was spectacular.

“It was not the only great finish we had in Sochi, but on that day we had the combination of the weather and the crowds. It’s something I will remember for a long time.”

Following Sochi’s success, Walsh has already pinpointed one area he believes will be crucial to ensure the next Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea are even better.

“One thing we learned from Sochi is event experience and the importance of knowing how to stage one of our events,” said Walsh. “We have already been in discussion with PyeongChang 2018 and we’re now looking at having a World Cup in Korea next year. This will give the athletes an experience of going to Asia to compete and also help get the Koreans accustomed with hosting our events as they’ve never hosted an IPC competition before.

“This, combined with the experience of those who attended the IPC Observers Programme in Sochi and a strong engagement programme at our events between now and 2018, we hope will pay dividend for us in four years time.”

The next major international event on the IPC Nordic Skiing calendar, outside of the annual World Cup, is the 2015 World Championships that will be staged in Cable, Wisconsin, in the USA between 24 January and 1 February.