Paralympic scene-setter

BOB MACKIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:04 PM ET

VANCOUVER - The city that gave the world amputee runner Terry Fox and wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen becomes the capital of winter sports for athletes with a disability at B.C. Place Stadium on Friday.

The Paralympic Winter Games are in Canada for the first time.

Six-hundred athletes from 45 countries will compete for 333 medals in 64 events through March 21. Sledge hockey and wheelchair curling are in Vancouver. Cross-country skiing, biathlon and alpine skiing are in Whistler.

Toronto hosted the 1976 Summer Paralympics, also known as the Torontolympiad, in which Canada won 25 gold medals.

Millions of Canadians were introduced to Alexandre Bilodeau, Maelle Ricker and Jon Montgomery in last month’s Winter Olympics, but a different crop of athletes is on the verge of becoming stars at home when competitions begin Saturday.

Brian McKeever of Canmore, Alta., was devastated to be cut from Canada’s Olympic cross-country ski team but is expected to race in four cross-country and two biathlon events at the Callaghan Valley.

Legally blind McKeever won two gold medals and a silver and bronze at Turin in 2006 after two golds and a silver at Salt Lake 2002. His brother Robin McKeever, who competed in the 1998 Nagano Olympics, is his guide.

Alpine skier Lauren Woolstencroft of North Vancouver was the 2009 world champion in four of the five downhill disciplines. The 2006 International Paralympic Committee athlete of the year won a gold and silver in Turin and two golds and a bronze in Salt Lake. She was born without legs below her knees and without her left forearm.

Canada’s sledge hockey team will be defending the gold medal it won in Turin against Norway.

Defenceman and captain Jean Labonte of Gatineau, Que., will carry Canada’s flag into the 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET opening ceremony, where more than 50,000 people are expected. The event will be webcast live on the IPC website, but tape-delayed until Saturday by CTV.

Canada’s best Winter Paralympic showing was at Salt Lake where it won six gold, four silver and five bronze medals.

The Paralympic movement began at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England the same day the London 1948 Olympics opened. Dr. Ludwig Guttman believed a sports festival would aid patients who lost limbs or were in wheelchairs because of injuries suffered in the Second World War.

The first official Paralympic Games were in Rome after the 1960 Summer Olympics. The winter version debuted in 1976 at Ornskoldsvik, Sweden.


Videos

Photos