Marie Bochet to Carry French Flag in PyeongChang

Marie Bochet with the French Flag at the announcement (Photo: France NPC)

PARIS – France has become the first country to announce its flag bearer for the 2018 Paralympic Games in PyeongChang opening ceremony as Marie Bochet was named the flag bearer on Saturday.

Bochet has won four Paralympic Games titles in alpine skiing and comes to PyeongChang as one of the most decorated athletes not just from France but in the world. At just 23 Bochet has become one of the best alpine skiers in her standing classification in the world.

2017 was a phenomenal year with Bochet proving phenomenally difficult to beat, winning 14 world titles in the last four years, with 2017 being especially prolific. She had cemented her place as the best in the world and will travel to Korea as the world number one.

While Bochet’s friends and family were confident that she would be the flag bearer she was not so sure, knowing how big an honor it would be. That honor was granted to her by other members of the team and the French Paralympic Committee reflecting how highly she is held, not just for her skiing but as an ambassador.

Competing in five events at the Paralympic Games gives Bochet a very full schedule, with the first event, the Downhill the morning after the Opening Ceremony. It was that reason that Bochet did not attend the 2014 opening ceremony, but the honor of carrying the flag was too much for her to say no.

For Bochet the opening ceremony is a chance for great unity, that is not often seen at these major events with most athletes competing alone.

“This task is extremely important to me. In the French teams, there are generally gaps between each individual sport and our unity is what strengthened us at Sochi four years ago,” said Bochet. “This team is made up of varied but complementary personalities and I sincerely hope that we will form a solid team of supportive members. Although we are alone on D-day, competition day, sharing it is very important from my point of view.”

Bochet will be carrying the flag for the second winter ceremony in a row, having carried the flag at the 2014 Paralympic Games closing ceremony. She will be hoping to do at least as well as the last winter Paralympic Games flag bearer, Vincent Gauthier-Manuel, who managed to win a full set of medals, claiming bronze in the downhill, silver in the slalom, and gold in the giant slalom; although that would be a downturn for Bochet who won four gold medals in 2014.


Kelly Gallagher Misses out on GB Paralympic Squad

Kelly Gallagher and her guide Charlotte Evans at the NZ Winter Games (Photo: Zimbio)

LONDON – She won Great Britain’s first ever winter Paralympic Games gold medal four years ago but Kelly Gallagher will not be able to repeat as she was left out of the GB squad for PyeongChang which was announced on Friday.

With GB only allowed two visually impaired skiers, one choice was easy, world champion Millie Knight, a favorite for gold in PyeongChang. But the second spot was a tough choice, in the end, GB went with form, giving the place to starlet Menna Fitzpatrick who has had a strong season, winning the overall world cup title in 2016 and winning four medals in 2017.

The door is not yet closed for Gallagher, as GB could still earn more spots in PyeongChang as additional places are made available. With Knight holding the world title, GB will get a very early place in the allocation order should some other places become available, giving Gallagher a chance.

In addition to those two athletes the rest of the squad was also named with two more skiers forming part of the squad. Chris Lloyd will make his debut while James Whitley will compete in his second games, both men competing in the standing classification.

On top of the four alpine skiing athletes, history will be made in PyeongChang as GB announced its first ever competitors in Snowboard at the Paralympic Games. Owen Pick, Ben Moore, and James Barnes-Miller will be the first British snowboarders at a Paralympic Games following on from their strong performances in the world championships. Barnes-Miller had £10,000 worth of equipment stolen in October, but put that behind him to have an impressive season on the World Cup circuit earning his place in Korea Republic in March.

More places could open up at the end of January as teams submit their full rosters, with the possibility that some nations may not fill their quotas with eligible athletes. Should that happen Gallagher, and other British athletes will have a shot, that announcement will come from the International Paralympic Committee slightly over a month out from the Games.


Stephanie Dixon to Receive Order of Canada

Stephanie Dixon celebrates gold at Beijing 2008 (Photo: Zimbio)

WHITEHORSE, Yukon, Canada – Canadian swimmer Stephanie Dixon has received one of Canada’s highest honors as she was named to the New Year’s Honors list which was released on Tuesday, being awarded the second highest honor in Canada, the Order of Canada.

About one year ago, Dixon was nominated by one of the managers of the Canadian Paralympic swim team for the honor. But she did not think that she had a chance of winning the award, continuing her life, ending up getting the news in a coffee shop in Whitehorse.

“Tears started to fill my eyes, this is wild,” Dixon said to the Whitehorse Daily Star. “It did come as a bit of a surprise to be honest. I don’t think anyone’s goal is ever to be receiving the Order of Canada.”

Dixon won 19 medals at the Paralympic Games, and receives the honor along with 124 others who will be travelling to Ottawa to formally get the honor from the Governor-General. The honor was given for her excellence in swimming and parasport advocacy.

Winning her first medals as a 16-year-old, Dixon came to attention at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, winning five gold medals, and two silvers. Dixon also set three world records in that first Paralympics appearance, in the 100 and 400m freestyle, and the 100m backstroke.

Following her retirement after the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, Dixon continued her involvement in swimming moving to the Yukon and coaching at the Glacier Bears before moving on to the Yukon Graylings Masters club. That continued involvement pushed her into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, and her receiving this honor continues Canada’s push to show the diversity of its citizens in its honors lists.

United States Announces Sled Hockey Roster

Josh Pauls celebrating (Photo: USA Hockey)

NEW YORK CITY – Sled hockey took a big stage on Monday afternoon as USA Hockey announced the squad for the 2018 Paralympic Games in the second intermission of the National Hockey League (NHL) Winter Classic held at Citi Field.

17 players were named to the squad, with 10 of them having prior Paralympic Games experience, nine of those 10 claiming Paralympic Gold in Sochi. Captain Josh Pauls, alternative captains Declan Farmer, and Nikko Landeros, along with six others look to defend their title.

The United States has medaled in every Paralympic Games since it hosted the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, only failing to medal in its first ever appearance in 1998 in Nagano, Japan. The United States has won the last two gold medals in the event, with a bronze in Torino in 2006, and a gold in Salt Lake City.

“We’re going to be a fast-paced, puck-moving team that is led by a great core of veterans who knows what it takes to win,” said Dan Brennan, USA Hockey’s Director of Sled Hockey.

The USA will have a preliminary camp in Chicago, something Brennan says the team is very excited for, before heading to Italy for a tournament and then a home and away series with local rivals, and defending bronze medalists, Canada.

USA Hockey is hoping that training camp will give the team an edge, something which Pauls believes will help a lot.

“Like our former coach, Coach Sauer, used to say, it’s really hard to get on top, and it’s even harder to stay. It’s going to take dedication from every one of our team members,” said Pauls. “But we’re definitely up to the challenge, especially living with each other and training together. It’s going to take a full team mentality, and I think we have that going in.”

Of the 17 players, 16 of them play for teams affiliated with an NHL team, with the Chicago Blackhawks leading the way with five, four from Colorado Avalanche, three from the St. Louis Blues, two from the Buffalo Sabres, Declan Farmer as the lone member from the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Noah Grove as the lone Boston Bruins representative. The only player playing outside of the NHL affiliates is Jack Wallace of the NJ Freeze, the second youngest member of the squad playing at the elite youth team.

The United States will face some blockbuster games in PeyongChang in March, at the head of Group B, arguably the tougher of the two groups. The United States will face the Czech Republic and Japan, along with the hosts, South Korea, with the first game on March 10th.

Australia Implicated in Swimming Cheating Scandal

Photo: SwimSwam

BELCONNEN, ACT, Australia – Swimming Australia has been the latest organization pulled into the para swimming cheating scandal, with allegations of faking classification tests to get an ‘easier’ classification and thus more medals.

The revelation came through Australian public broadcaster the ABC with allegations made on The Ticket program. A number of swimmers and parents expressed concerns similar to those alleged in the United Kingdom with a recent parliamentary enquiry.

Australian swimming coach Simon Watkins has coached at Paralympic level and spoke on the show about cheating, and how it is widespread, and a common discussion topic, although declined to name if it was happening in Australia. For its part Swimming Australia has responded, saying that cheating will not be tolerated.

One swimmer spoke about being coached to ‘enhance’ the impairment of disability before classification, using methods like exhaustion to make the impairment appear more serious. The accusations she made ventured into more serious territory including athletes not taking medication.

Another common trend in this sort of story continued in Australia, with threats toward those raising the concerns. In Australia It was threats of breaching classification rules, ironically, allegedly used to silence the critics, which led to turning to the ABC, and the International Paralympic Committee.

Swimming Australia’s response to these allegations was that cheating will not be tolerated, although stopped short of saying outright that swimmers and coaches would be banned.

“If we knew of the situation, and the coaches, we would respond immediately and extremely strongly,” said Swimming Australia CEO Mark Anderson.

In Australia winning more medals at the Paralympic Games results in more funding (despite the disparity in the number of events each sport is eligible to win). As a result swimming is the highest funded sport, and hence there may be an incentive for such schemes.

The allegations will no doubt be examined as part of the International Paralympic Committee review of swimming, but these allegations are not different to many other countries.

Russia Preparing for Paralympic Games Exclusion

Image: TASS

MOSCOW – On Monday the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) revealed that it will be announcing a decision on Russia’s participation at the 2018 Paralympic Games, but the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) responded, revealing a potential alternative should its suspension be upheld.

Speaking to the media the RPC President Vladimir Lukin hinted that an alternative competition, hosted by Russia, could be an option should the IPC maintain the RPC’s suspension next month. Despite that suggestion Lukin made it clear that the preferred option of the RPC is for the IPC to lift the suspension, allowing athletes to compete in PyeongChang in March.

“Alternative competitions? Let’s move on step by step. First we’ll wait and see if we participate in the Games or not, and then look around and decide what to do next,” said Lukin. “On the basis of that principle we develop the Paralympic movement not for the sake of a showoff once in four years, but for giving people a chance.”

The IPC decision is dated for the 16th so that it can come after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision on Russia. That decision will come on December 5th when the IOC Executive Board meets, notably Russia was banned from the 2016 Paralympic Games but not from the Olympic Games, so presumably an Olympic ban would solidify the IPC suspension.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had even stronger words stating that he would defend the interests of Russian athletes.

“The state will continue giving a priority to the development of the Paralympic sport and defending the interests of Russian athletes and teams at the highest international level,” said Putin.

What that defense looks like will become clear in the coming days, but things aren’t looking good for Russia with the IOC making moves believed to lead to a Russian ban.

Wheelchair Tennis Tour Completes With Bath Indoor Titles

Alfie Hewett celebrates his title (Photo: Tennis Foundation)

BATH, Eng., United Kingdom – The final wheelchair tennis tour event before the tour championship has been completed as both Alfie Hewett and Diede de Groot managed straight sets victories to claim the men’s and women’s singles titles on Saturday.

With the NEC Singles Wheelchair Masters coming up next week Hewett and de Groot have surely marked themselves as favourites for the major title.

Hewett was a convincing winner in the men’s singles final as he won 6-0 6-4 over Swede Stefan Olsson, the 2017 Wimbledon Champion. The win sees Hewett come into the season ending masters event with a world ranking of third, making him a strong contender for the title.

De Groot claims the women’s singles title with a simple 6-1, 6-2 victory over German world No. 4 Sabine Ellerbrock. The Dutchwoman than backed up well winning the women’s doubles final with British partner Lucy Shuker. The pair won the match 6-0, 7-5 with Ellerbrock also losing in that match with her partner Dutch Marjolein Buis, putting up a good fight in the second set but just couldn’t manage the win.

Following the loss in the men’s singles final, Olsson recovered well from that defeat, partnering with Belgian Joachim Gerard to win their second straight Bath Indoor title. The pair managed a tough win, claiming the title 7-6(2), 6-2, taking that momentum into the second set for the win.

In the quad tournaments, the singles was claimed by number one David Wagner with a surprise in the doubles as Brazilian Ymanitu Silva teamed up with South African