Winter Paralympics 2014: And the gold medal for skiing full pelt downhill with your eyes closed in Sochi goes to...

Susie Mesure introduces the madcap world of Winter Paralympics

If you thought that the slopestylers hucking it high above the slopes of Rosa Khutor  was as thrilling as armchair sports got this winter then maybe you’ve never imagined skiing in the dark. With your eyes shut.

That’s what it will feel like for visually impaired competitors including Britain’s Kelly Gallagher who will be among those taking to what little snow remains at the Winter Paralympics. Welcome back to Sochi, where despite the rising mercury, 600 athletes from 44 countries – including newcomers Brazil, Turkey and Uzbekistan – will compete for 72 gold medals across five events, starting at 5.45 UK time this morning.

Of Britain’s 15 athletes,  10 will compete in alpine skiing, arguably the scariest to contemplate.

There are five disciplines – downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and super combined – and three categories of racer – visually impaired, standing, and sitting.

Help in understanding the different classifications will be provided by Channel 4 through its LEXI graphical decoder, which debuted during London 2012.

Home-grown excitement starts with the first event, women’s downhill. Gallagher, who follows her guide Charlotte Evans down the course while listening to her instructions, is aiming for gold – which would be a British Winter Paralympic first.

Jade Etherington, who has just 5 per cent vision, will ski with her new guide Caroline Powell. Anna Turney, who broke her back in 2006 while snowboarding, will contest downhill as a sit-skier.

Millie Knight, the youngest team member who turned 15 in January, races the slalom on 14 March with her guide Rachael Ferrier. Our men to watch include Mick Brennan, who will race as a sit-skier in the super-G tomorrow, and fellow sit-skier Ben Sneesby, in the slalom on 13 March.

The big first this year is snowboarding, which makes its debut with snowboard cross. Expect the Americans to dominate the event.

Team GB has five competitors in wheelchair curling – Aileen Neilson, Gregor Ewan, Bob McPherson, Angie Malone, and Jim Gault – a mixed-team sport with four players that begins today with a match against Canada. As with its able-bodied equivalent, the aim is to slide stones with handles across the ice, aiming for a target called the house. Expect fewer housework gags: there is no sweeping in this version.

Back on the snow prepare for some astonishing feats in cross-country skiing, with distances ranging from 1km to 20km.

Spectators will have the chance to be astonished by American competitor Tatyana “The Beast” McFadden, who is racing after just 50 days’ training on snow. The US athletics star made the switch after winning every wheelchair title going, from the 100m to the marathon. McFadden is returning to the country of her birth too: she was adopted aged six from  a Russian orphanage in St Petersburg.

And then there’s biathlon, which as you might remember from the Winter Olympics,  combines cross-country skiing and target shooting.

But consider this: apparently not being able to see the target is no impediment to competing. Athletes with visual impairment have instead to listen to acoustic signals, which depending on how loud they are indicate when they are on target. And remember, each miss is penalised by an increase in the overall route time.

The final event is perhaps the most visually electrifying if also the most sexist: sledge hockey. Although women happily play ice hockey, sledge hockey at the Paralympics is one for the men only. They play sitting on special sledges, which allows the puck to whiz underneath.

Voices
voices
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
newsHad asteroid hit earlier or later in history, the creatures might have survived, say scientists
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried