With four medals in skiing and one in snowboarding, the U.S. Paralympics team is feeling “primed and ready to finish strong,” said Kevin Jardine, director of the U.S. Paralympics alpine skiing and snowboarding program, as the athletes head into the final weekend of the Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Ten of the U.S. team’s athletes either live in the Roaring Fork Valley or base and train at Aspen Highlands during the winter. Jardine lives in Carbondale.
“The racing has been going great here. The conditions are so much better than in Sochi, and everyone is skiing amazing. Competition is at its finest, and the world is getting quite a show,” Jardine said Thursday by email.
Putting on a good show Wednesday was Tyler “T-Bone” Walker, who won silver in men’s sitting giant slalom. The medal was especially sweet because it came in his fourth Olympics, which date back to 2006 in Torino, Italy. In Sochi four years ago, Walker, a double-amputee, sustained a horrific crash and was taken off the course by helicopter.
After Wednesday’s race, Walker referred to how difficult it was to return to competitive form mentally and physically after that crash. He labored for years on the World Cup and in the World Championships and enjoyed periods of athletic dominance. Still, an Olympic medal was elusive.
“I don’t know how to describe four Paralympics. Fifteen seasons. A whole lifetime of dreaming of this,” he said in post-race remarks. “A lot of hard work has been put into this. I’ve got amazing coaches and teammates that have gotten me through this whole process and have made it an amazing career.”
Walker earned the fourth alpine skiing medal of this Games for the U.S. He was born with lumbar sacral agenesis, a condition that resulted in him not having a spine after the first vertebra; he had both legs amputated at the knee at age 4, according to Walker’s team biography.
Other top finishes of locally based athletes in Wednesday's giant slalom include Thomas Walsh, seventh in men’s standing, and Laurie Stephens, seventh in women’s sitting. Jamie Stanton was 14th.
Snowboarder Keith Gabel, who also trains locally with the national team and AVSC’s development team, won silver in the snowboard cross on Monday. Four years ago in Sochi, Gabel captured bronze in the same event. He competes in the SB-LL2 class.
Gabel began snowboarding in 2000 and returned to it as an adaptive sport after his foot was crushed in an industrial accident and later amputated.
Jardine said on Thursday the team’s success came after tough lessons learned in Sochi. The team took a more targeted approach into this Games, with athletes being more selective about which events they entered.
“I’m proud of our team and our athletes. They are fighting hard. Andrew Kurka’s medals were not easy to win, neither were Laurie’s, Tyler’s or Keith’s,” Jardine said.
“Everyone has had to fight with everything they have to get on the podium here. I’m proud of all the hard work that they have done and what they have accomplished,” he said.
There’s one more snowboarding event for Gabel, banked slalom today. The skiers return this weekend to Jeongseon Alpine Center for the men’s and women’s slalom races.
NBC and the Olympic Channel are providing coverage of the Paralympic Games. Go to https://www.paralympic.org/pyeongchang-2018/schedule-results for more.
Follow Madeleine on Twitter, @Madski99