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Canada sending strong team to Paralympics

Skiers, sledge hockey team favoured to win medals

The Canadian Paralympic Committee announced its team for Torino last Wednesday, at a special ceremony in Ottawa with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Sport Minister Michael Chong.

The Paralympics kick off this Friday with the opening ceremonies in Torino, and continue through the following Sunday, March 19.

At first glance it may seem like a small team – just 33 athletes for five Paralympic disciplines, including an entire men’s sledge hockey team. But when you consider the comparative strength of the team, the Paralympic team takes on a whole new dimension.

The Canadian Disabled Alpine Ski Team just wrapped up its 2005-06 World Cup season, finishing fourth overall in the Nation’s Cup race. To put that achievement into perspective, CDAST has just eight athletes competing, compared to Austria, the U.S. and Japan, which finished first through third with full rosters of 22 athletes each. The previous season, Canada finished ninth.

All told, this season CDAST athletes claimed 22 podiums and earned seven championship globes – both won by Lauren Woolstencroft and Chris Williamson. Woolstencroft won World Cup globes for taking the giant slalom and super G titles, as well as the overall globe. Williamson won GS, slalom and super G titles as well as the overall globe to add another four to Canada’s tally. There was just one downhill event this year so no globes were awarded, but Woolstencroft took gold in that discipline as well.

"We got off to a strong start at the Europa Cups in December and kept that momentum going," said CDAST head coach Leslie Clarke. "The whole team, including athletes, coaches, servicemen, our strength and conditioning coach, team sport psychologist and Alpine Canada staff have worked really well together and it’s showing. There is a really good vibe within the team right now, which is great as we’re heading up to the Paralympics."

Two of the athletes are based in Whistler – sit skier Brad Lennea and standing skier Matthew Hallat. Other athletes train here regularly, including Vancouver’s Scott Patterson and Bobby Taylor.

The Paralympic hockey team is also favoured to do well. Canada has nine players returning from the 2002 Olympic team, which finished fourth. Since then the team has continued to show improvement, most recently winning the German Invitational Tournament in December against other nations. Over the season their record is 8-3-0, and they have outscored opponents 28-13.

If the team wins gold it will be a first for Canada since sledge hockey was added to the Paralympics in 1994.

For the cross-country and biathlon events the team has just five members and one guide for blind skier Brian McKeever. McKeever won two gold medals and a silver in the Salt Lake City Paraylmpic Games in 2002, and remains one of the top World Cup racers. Colette Bourgonje of Saskatchewan also competed in 2002, finishing fourth, sixth and ninth in sit ski events, and is always strong in international contests.

The other athletes have not been with the team as long, but have had strong results in the past few seasons to qualify for Paralympic berths.

Wheelchair curling is a new Paralympic event, which means Canada has not yet been tested in international competition. There are a few differences from able-bodied curling. First of all, teams are co-ed, and no sweeping is allowed. Players are also limited to the degree they can alter wheelchairs, and all wheelchairs are stationary. If needed, some players are allowed to use a cue, or stick to push the curling rocks.

Whistler is slated to host all Paralympic events in 2010, as well as any demonstration sports that meet International Paralympic Committee approval.

While announcing the team, the Canadian Paralympic Committee also kicked off its "Feel the Rush" winter sports campaign to encourage more disabled Canadians to embrace sport and increase participation by 2010, where Canada hopes to finish in the top-three in the medal count.

"The Paralympic Movement uses sport to empower people with physical disabilities at all levels," said Henry Wohler, CPC president. "We aim to involve more people with physical disabilities in sport and that way we’ll see as many Canadians as possible on the Paralympic Podium in 2010."

In 2002, Canada earned 15 medals to finish seventh among all nations. The U.S. was first with 43 medals, followed by Germany with 33, Austria with 29, Russia with 21, France with 19, and Norway with 19. To improve Canada’s chances at winning medals, there is an Own The Podium-2010 for the Paralympics, which increases funding for athletes, national sport organizations and technology leading up to 2010.

For more on the Paralympics, you can follow the Games online at, Pique Newsmagazine will also be running a daily weblog from the Paralympics at