Under normal circumstances, World Championship paraskiing and parasnowboarding meets are held in odd-numbered years. But with global COVID numbers spiking in January 2021, the event was postponed by a year, giving us back-to-back global competitions to kick off 2022: the Worlds in January, followed by the Winter Paralympics just six weeks later.
This was also the first year in which the World Championships for all three snow-borne parasports—alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, and snowboarding—were staged at a single venue in a single two-week block. (In years past they were held at separate sites on separate weekends.) With hordes of athletes in multiple disciplines gathered in one place, the new format emulates the Paralympics. Nearly everyone who competed at the Worlds in Lillehammer last month will be reconvening next month in Beijing.
Because of the unusual timing, the Worlds offer a clear picture of who’s peaking at the right time heading into the Paralympics. Here’s a quick rundown of the American amputee athletes who shone brightest at the Worlds:
Oksana Masters, Nordic skiing/biathlon: Masters tested positive for COVID just days before the Worlds began, and she’d already missed her first race by the time she’d cleared protocols and rushed over to Lillehammer. Even so, she brought home a gold medal in the long-distance (15 km) cross-country race, plus a silver and two bronzes in the biathlon. Masters won five medals at the 2018 Winter Games, and she’s got a clean shot to match that total next month.
Brenna Huckaby, snowboarding: Although she won two medals at Worlds (gold in banked slalom, silver in boardercross), Huckaby will be a decided underdog in Beijing. That’s because the International Paralympic Committee saw fit to exclude Huckaby’s classification (LL-1) from the 2022 Winter Games. She took the IPC to court and won the right to participate in the LL-2 classification, but as the only above-knee amputee in a field of below-knee amputees, she’ll be racing at a disadvantage.
Thomas Walsh, alpine skiing: Only two US racers (neither one an amputee) made the podium in Lillehammer, but Walsh could crash the party at the Paralympics. He came in a strong fourth in the super combined (which consists of one slalom run and one super G) and placed sixth in giant slalom. Perhaps the course and conditions in Beijing will work in his favor; perhaps he’ll just have a better day on the slopes. Among Team USA’s amputee skiers, Walsh is the best bet to earn some hardware.
Mike Schultz, snowboarding: The competition in the LL-1 classification is shaping up to be fierce among Schultz, teammate Noah Elliott, and Canadian snowboarder Tyler Turner (better known for his wingsuit flying). At the Worlds Schultz finished second in both events, behind Elliott in banked slalom and Turner in boardercross. These races look to be among the highlights of the Winter Games.
Mike Minor, snowboarding: As the reigning Paralympic gold medalist in banked slalom (men’s upper-limb category), Minor can’t be discounted as a medal threat even though he had a somewhat disastrous experience at Worlds. He lost his competition helmet and goggles at the airport, then tested positive for COVID, and ended up breaking some ribs in a fall. “Life doesn’t always go exactly how you imagine it will and that’s the beauty of it,” he wrote at Instagram. “I’m going to come back harder & stronger than before.”