Chris Williamson a leader of disabled ski team

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:13 AM ET

Disabled skiers were shoulder to shoulder with the able-bodied team at a news conference a few weeks back announcing another big corporation donation to benefit the Vancouver Olympics, and nothing could have made Chris Williamson prouder.

The Markham resident is a member of the Canadian disabled ski team, heading into his eighth year, and is that team's version of Thomas Grandi.

The able-bodied skiers sang Grandi's praises at the event, talking about his leadership qualities, that much more important as the team heads into an Olympic year.

The Turin Olympics in 2006 will give the Alpine ski team under Ken Read, and the Olympic movement in general, a good indication of where the team sits in terms of medal potential for the big carrot -- Vancouver 2010. That's where those who run the program are aiming and investing for a first overall finish in the medal standings.

Williamson and those on the disabled ski team see inspiration from Grandi's performance last year -- two world cup medals last season -- but Williamson is one athlete not in need of a push through the accomplishments of another competitor.

The 33-year-old won the overall super G world cup title last year on the disabled skiing circuit, including three gold medals. Overall in his career on the circuit, he has 24 wins and 39 podium finishes under his belt.

Williamson has been visually impaired since childhood because of an infection called Toxoplasmosis. He now has no sight in his right eye and peripheral vision in his left.

The rise in profile for disabled skiing, especially since it came under the Alpine Canada umbrella in 2002, is something Williamson has witnessed up close, as well as the improvement in competition worldwide.

"Being part of Alpine Canada has given us a lot more sponsorship opportunities," he said. "It given us more training opportunities. It has increased our exposure. The public is able to see we are competing at a high level more than they might have in previous years."

When Williamson skis, he's accompanied by a sighted guide, who either leads or follows him, depending on the event. The two wear a two-way radio system so they can communicate with each other during the run.

The first world cup event for disabled skiers is Jan. 23 in Korea.


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