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The First Year Of A Paralympic Quad Is All About Process For The Para Alpine Ski Team

by Nicole Haase

Laurie Stephens competes during the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 3, 2022 in Beijing.

 

The Para alpine skiing calendar can best be described as condensed and relentless.

 

The highly competitive, almost non-stop schedule is not particularly conducive to focused, consistent and quality runs. The best-trained skiers spend nearly all four years in a Paralympic quad repeating their habits, refining their technique and honing in on the smallest details so that when they’re at the start gate in the Paralympic Winter Games, they are able to replicate their best personal performance under the most intense circumstances.

 

That’s no easy task, said Tony McAllister, the new associate director of high performance for U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing. That is why the skiers and their coaches use the four years between the Games to gather data, create a plan and slowly start to deconstruct every movement in a skier’s run to maximize their potential.

 

“We’re in a bit of a rebuilding phase right now in year one of the new quad,” McAllister said. “We’re looking at the fundamentals, or seeing if we can find any individual opportunities there for each athlete to redefine those, or retrain them to give them opportunity further down the line.”

 

The outcome isn’t the goal. There are no expectations for finishes, just focused, process-driven work. There is a strong belief among both staff and skiers that if they stick to the plan and remain accountable to the process, the inevitable outcome is podium placement and medal wins.

 

This first year after the Paralympics is about information gathering with the goal of repeating and narrowing the scope of work. It’s about perfecting a skier’s craft and mental performance so that as the quad continues, an athlete is focusing on more detailed work and looking for smaller gains with the goal of an easily replicable process.

 

“They’re skiers at the end of the day, so they want to go fast,” McAllister said. “They want to race. It’s recognizing that and controlling that so all the stuff they’ve worked on up to that point doesn’t go out the window.”

 

The Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 were tough for the team, with leadership changes just before the Games and injuries in training and competition runs. It was a difficult stretch for the athletes involved. But, it led to a lot of learning, growth and understanding of what the team needed to be moving forward, according to McAllister.

Thomas Walsh competes during the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 7, 2022 in Beijing.

 

There has been a strong focus on culture within this team, and much of what the coaches now focus on came out of conversations with the athletes. The staff and skiers have worked together to create a comfortable environment for everyone, which allows them to skate at their best.

 

“We want a performance-driven environment first and foremost,” McAllister said. “But not at the expense of health and well-being, physiologically, emotionally.”

 

“We’re definitely focusing a lot on culture still and being accountable to the values that we have identified that are important to us as a team.”

 

Alpine skiing is an individual sport where each athlete needs their own specialized coaching and individualized progression. However, they also train together as a team. Each skier has a specific strategy. But they must also be collaborative and flexible to make sure it’s compatible with the overall strategy of the team. McAllister said communication and transparency have been the keys to helping keep everyone on the same page and ready to move forward together.

 

“It’s definitely more focused individually than it has been in the past but still, paradoxically, team-focused at the same time in terms of, ‘we cannot do this effectively unless we operate as a team,’” McAllister said.

 

The upcoming season has two North American Cup stops in the U.S. The first is in Winter Park, Colorado, the first week of January and the other is Feb. 1-3 in Park City, Utah. The tour returns to North America March 24-28, when the U.S. and Canada will hold their respective national championships concurrently in Kimberley, British Columbia. They are separate competitions, but with the atmosphere of a festival, McAllister explained. The events will run back-to-back. For example, Canada slalom skiers will compete, then U.S. slalom skiers. Then it will move on to the next event.

 

The world championships are scheduled for Jan. 18-29 in La Molina, Spain.

 

Another highlight will be a world cup scheduled for Feb. 27 and 28 in Kitzbühel, Austria. No Para events have ever been held at this highly challenging and well-respected run. The event is only for slalom skiers this time. However, McAllister hopes this is a step in bringing Para skiing to the same level as its counterpart and recognizing everyone can race there.

 

McAllister has high hopes for his team in the upcoming season. There are 13 athletes between the A and B squads, with five more on the development team that will compete domestically. All but one of the skiers have Paralympic experience, with Saylor O’Brien being the newest member of the national team. Thomas Walsh is coming off a silver medal in giant slalom in Beijing, which was the only Para alpine medal the U.S. won at the Games.

 

McAllister wants to make sure the team takes time to relish accomplishments, big and small. Historically, the team has not been great about congratulating themselves on the positives, instead immediately looking for what was wrong or what could be improved. It’s a small thing. But in a program where the process is the focus, and each day is about progress within that process, celebrating accomplishments is a necessary step. Furthermore, it is a motivating factor to get back up and do it all over again. And that repetition is what Team USA thinks they need to be back on top.

 

“If we get comfortable or stay stagnant, we’ll be left behind,” McAllister said.


Nicole Haase is a freelancer for TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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