By Christian Radnedge
PARIS (Reuters) – The lack of enough snow at the 2014 and 2018 Winter Paralympics means that it is imperative for the 2026 Games to be hosted in a traditional winter sports city, German para-alpine skiing champion Anna Schaffelhuber said.
The 25-year-old made the podium three times earlier this year in South Korea, winning gold in the downhill and super-G and claiming silver in the super-combined.
However, while she said that temperatures were ideal for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February, the same could not be said for the Paralympics which followed in March.
“It (Pyeongchang) was a little the same like Sochi, the snow was almost awful. You have to say Sochi and Pyeongchang are not cities where winter sport is big. It was too warm,” the seven-time Paralympic gold medallist told Reuters.
“At the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang it was cold, the snow was almost good. But at the Paralympic Games … we had 21 degrees (Celsius) at the start and the … Koreans they did what they could do to make more snow.
“But if you have 20 degrees there are no more chemicals left you can put in the snow to have good snow.”
Schaffelhuber did not necessarily believe that changing the timing of the event would be the answer, though.
“No, I can see an argument for maybe hosting it at the same time to give it the same exposure but this brings with it all new challenges,” she said at the Laureus Sport for Good Summit in Paris in partnership with Allianz.
The German swept the alpine skiing events in Sochi in 2014, winning five gold medals having made her debut as a 17-year-old at the Vancouver Games in 2010, winning bronze in Super-G.
Schaffelhuber, who was born with an incomplete spinal cord, was not confident that the snow issue would be any better at the next Paralympics in Beijing in 2022.
In response to her concerns, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said in an email: “There has been good snow for the last several winters in the Zhangjiakou Zone, which will host several snow sports events in 2022.
“All of these competition venues have been approved by the International Federations. The region also has the right conditions for snow-making.”
The International Paralympic Committee, which contributes to the vote on host city selection, said: “The IPC and World Para Snow Sports work in close contact with the IPC Athletes’ Council and the athletes’ representative from each winter sport taking very seriously any concerns or recommendations from athletes.
“Regarding the temperatures at the Pyeongchang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, they did change during the event and also in comparison with the test events which took place in the same period in 2017. However, athletes, coaching staff and sports officials are used to these changes which are inherent to snow sports.”
Fears over the cost of hosting the Games, partly fuelled by the reported $51 billion spent by Russia for 2014, led to only two cities bidding for the 2022 edition, with Beijing beating Kazakhstan’s Almaty.
The Austrian city of Graz and Switzerland’s Sion were both interested in bidding to host the 2026 Games. However, both withdrew after failing to get political and public backing.
Calgary, Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo and Stockholm are all in the running to be chosen as hosts by the IOC in June next year. Calgary hosted the 1988 Games while Milan and Stockholm already have thriving winter sports facilities.
Schaffelhuber was hopeful therefore that a traditional winter sport setting would be more beneficial to athletes.
“Yes I think it is very, very important for the performances… to come back to a country which is more interested in winter sports so they can have the best conditions,” the nine-time world champion said.
She added that the local attitudes towards the Paralympics should also be taken into consideration.
“My first Games were in Vancouver and Canada was a big party,” she said. “Every minute you felt the spirit of the Paralympic Games. In Sochi and in Pyeongchang the people did what they could do, but you did not feel this atmosphere.”
(Reporting by Christian Radnedge,; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)