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
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
tvMark Wright and Bianca Miller fight for Lord Sugar's investment
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
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

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick