The various winter sport world championships are going to give a pretty good idea of where Canada’s Paralympics team is as it prepares for the Sochi Games in exactly one year, says chef de mission Ozzie Sawicki.
“Right now, the teams have been doing quite well,” he said this week.
But Sawicki says whether Canada remains on target to finish third, as it did in Vancouver in 2010, will become a lot clearer as the games draw closer.
And there is also the issue of succession planning, although that will come into play more after Sochi, he suggested.
“2014, I think we’re still quite strong in terms of the quality of athletes we have right now. I think 2018 is where we’re really looking,” he said.
“Who are the young up and comers that we need to mentor under the old guard? . . . That’s what we’re watching this year.”
When they arrive in Sochi, the Canadian athletes know they’ll be facing a host country that is pouring a lot of money and effort into upping its medal count at both the Olympics and Paralympics.
“It’s showing,” Sawicki said. “The Russians have been doing really well over the last four years and coming out of the woodwork where we’ve never really seen them before at that level.”
Sawicki was formerly coach of the alpine program and that’s one area where the team has perhaps suffered its biggest loss — the retirement of Calgary’s Lauren Woolstencroft.
She added five gold medals to Canada’s total all by herself in Vancouver, winning in giant slalom, slalom, super-G, downhill and super combined.
But Sawicki says other medal winners from those games continue to perform at a high level
Brian McKeever just won two gold medals at the cross-country world championship in Sochi. And relative newcomer Mark Ardenz also picked up a gold at an IPC biathlon world championship.
In para-alipine in Spain in February, Canada won the most medals of any country, but only one gold.
“The hope is we can convert those silver and bronze medals to gold medals,” said Sawicki.
Canada also won its third world title in curling in Sochi in February.
Team veteran Sonja Gaudet says things look good for Canada’s performance on the curling ice.
“I feel we’re as strong as we ever are,” she said, also praising the Russian organizers for the way the event was run.
“They were super-organized and we had one of our best world championships ever in terms of the organization and the venue.”
This will be her third Paralympics (she has gold medals from 2006 and 2010 hanging in her trophy cabinet already) and she said the way things were run bodes well for the games themselves.
New for these games is para-snowboarding, a test event being run this week in Sochi.
Canada is represented by Tyler Mosher, who competed in para-Nodic at the Vancouver Games.
“There is a history of performance in the winter games,” said Sawicki.
“We’ve had a good history in winter sport and hopefully that continues with snowboarding as well.”