MOSCOW, March 07, /ITAR-TASS/. Classic style cross-country skiing was first performed at the I Winter Paralympic Games in ·rnsk·ldsvik, Sweden, in 1976. Since the Paralympics in Innsbruck, Austria, the competition included both classic and skate skiing events but officially, the first medals for skate skiing were distributed in Albertville, France in 1992. Paralympic cross-country skiing is now practised in 24 countries.
In Sochi para-athletes will vie for 20 medal sets in three categories - stand-skiing, sit-skiing and visual impairment category. The contest will take place on March 9 - 16 at Laura skiing and biathlon centre.
Stand-skiers fall under LW2 - LW9 categories according to the International Paralympic Committee’s classification. Medals will be contested among men in 20 km classic style (women’s 15 km), 10 km free technique (women’s 5 km) and 1 km free technique sprint (men and women).
Athletes of LW10-LW12 categories using monoskis are eligible for sit-skiing competitions. Monoski is equipped with a seat with bindings and a special suspension easing the burden on the athlete’s body. In Sochi sit-skiers will compete in the following distances: 15 km, 10 km and sprint for men, and 12 km, 5 km and sprint for women.
B1-B3 athletes with visual challenges perform together with sighted guides, or leaders. A guide runs the distance in front of the athlete and informs him of the trail’s features like turns, ascents and descents. Para-athletes in Sochi visually disabled skiers will compete for medals in the same events as stand-skiers.
The XI Winter Paralympics will distribute medals in open and mixed relays. Relay includes four 2.5 km stages - two stages for classic skiing and free technique each. Team can comprise from two to four skiers, with each athlete eligible for only one race. A team participating in mixed relay should include at least one female athlete. Different functional categories are allowed to participate in Paralympic relay - stand- and sit-skiers as well as visually disabled skiers. Categories are taken into account according to the special rules based on the functional classification so that no team has an advantage above the others.
The Soviet debut in the event took place in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1988 when Valentina Grigorieva won two bronzes. At the Vancouver Paralympics in Canada in 2010 Russians performed best in team scoring with 22 medals (7 golds, 9 silvers and 6 bronzes). Irek Zaripov, Sergei Shilov and Kirill Mikhailov made it to the podium twice.
In seven Paralympic contests Russian skiers grabbed a total of 134 medals (49 golds, 52 silvers and 33 bronzes). Visually challenged athlete Valery Kupchinsky participated in six Paralympic Games and won the highest number of titles - 9 golds, 2 silvers and 3 bronzes.