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Ottawa at the Paralympics Day 2: Alexis Guimond climbs onto para alpine podium

By Dan Plouffe, Martin Cleary, Ethan Diamandas & Josh Bell (This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Paralympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.)

Our team of local Paralympians added a second medal through two days of competition at the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games, with Alexis Guimond following para alpine skiing teammate Tristan Rodgers onto the podium.

It was the second Paralympic bronze medal for Guimond in his second Games, though his first in the super-G, having finished fourth in the discipline at PyeongChang 2018.

Alexis Guimond alongside fellow Canadian bronze medallist Alana Ramsey. Photo: Alpine Canada

“It felt incredible,” Guimond said via Alpine Canada. “It’s been a long time coming and I’ve fallen short a lot of times in my career in the big moments. I’ve worked hard the last four years. My sole focus was on these Games, and I put everything into this performance, and I knew I had to put everything on the line.”

Guimond had a particularly strong middle section of the course to power himself into the bronze medal position once he’d reached the bottom. The 11th athlete down the hill in the men’s standing category, Guimond’s factored time of 1:10.02 held up as he watched the next 28 skiers miss his mark.

Kayla Dodson, the Canadian team strength coach, embraced Guimond at the finish and later said that Guimond “is the hardest working athlete – so deserving. This is the best.”

Guimond, who added 30 lbs. to his frame since the last Games to increase his speed, noted via the Canadian Paralympic Committee that “it’s been a long four years” since he made his Paralympic debut at age 18.

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” highlighted Guimond, now 22. “It’s not always been easy for me this four years and especially the pandemic made things a lot harder. But I’m really happy about my performance and I’m really happy about what I did today. Going into the Games I was telling myself I just want to perform well and do the best I can and today I did that.”

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Day 1 medallist crashes out in super-G

Ottawa guide Tristan Rodgers and visually-impaired skier Mac Marcoux had the day they’d been dreaming of when they won a silver medal on Day 1 after more than two years away from competition, but Day 2 was a bit of a nightmare.

Rodgers and Marcoux, who is from the Sault Ste. Marie area, had a good run going almost halfway down the course when Marcoux wiped out trying to make a sharper turn and slid outside of a gate.

There was concern initially that Marcoux may have been injured as he stayed down, but it may have just taken a moment to plan out how he’d get down the rest of the hill with just one ski left (we’re just guessing from what we saw on TV – there was no mention from the Canadian Paralympic Committee or Alpine Canada.)

But as they lick their wounds, the pair still have sparkling silver medals from the downhill competition already in their possession.

Tristan Rodgers (right) and Mac Marcoux. Photo: @tristanr0dgers Instagram

“We were so nervous, or at least I was, and I think Tristan could tell at the start,” Marcoux said via the Canadian Paralympic Committee. “Just being able to be here and kick out of the start gate in an actual race was all we could ever ask for after the last couple years.

“And being able to come down and to actually lay one down and execute everything we had planned, and to land on the podium is just overwhelming. It’s super exciting. It’s probably one of the more rewarding runs I’ve ever had.”

The downhill was Marcoux’s first race in over two years. COVID caused the cancellation of the last races of the 2019-20 season and the full 2020-21 season. He also had a knee surgery and a back injury to contend with before Beijing.

“I’m really thankful to be here,” Rodgers underlined in a post-race interview shared by the CPC. “We were in a place a couple months ago where we weren’t sure we would make it. Kicking out of the start gate, that was the goal, and then everything after that is just the cherry on the top.”

Rowland rebounds to place 10th in sit-ski

Brian Rowland had an improved result in his second career Paralympic men’s sit-ski competition on Day 2.

In the opening-day downhill, Rowland was disqualified for missing a gate, and he certainly wasn’t alone. In the final event on the hill of six, 11 of the 25 entrants did not complete the course, which had been chewed up pretty nicely come the men’s sitting skiers’ turn on the hill.

In Olympic competition, they employ the “flip-30” to determine start positions – all the skiers who are ranked in the top-30 ski first while the course is fresh, and then the lower ranked athletes are sent down to battle the grooves and ruts that can form from having many athletes trying to ski the same lines.

Rowland faced that same scenario come his super-G competition when he was the second-to-last athlete to leave the start hut in the final event of the day – the 127th of 128 total competitors to tackle the course.

This time he made it through all the gates, but he almost came to a momentary stop midway through when he went off-line and had to steer hard to get back through the next gate. Rowland let out a frustrated groan at the finish, knowing his solid 10th place result out of 28 entrants could have been even better.

“I’m determined to be one of the best in the world,” the 35-year-old Paralympic rookie said in a pre-Games interview with High Achievers columnist Martin Cleary. “I’m not stopping until I get there. I try my best to be one of the elite racers.”

Cool tech behind para alpine

If you happen to be watching para alpine skiing for the first time this Paralympics, you may be gaining an appreciation for some of the technology involved in the sport.

For example, Ottawa guide Tristan Rodgers wears a mic and headset on course to communicate with Mac Marcoux, who is visually impaired. Then you’ve got the equipment that the athletes with lower-body impairments use – Brian Rowland‘s sit-ski weighs 30 lbs. and costs $13,000.

And you may have noticed that the timing clock on-screen is sometimes ticking slightly slower than your standard second. That’s to give viewers live results for the competitors’ factored timing.

Brian Rowland. Photo: Alpine Canada

Let’s rewind here a moment. In para alpine skiing, there are three categories for both men and women – standing, skiing, and visually-impaired. The athletes within each category often have different types or severity of disability. Before the Games, they’ll each have undergone testing to determine their classification.

So, let’s use the visually-impaired category as an example. A skier who has some vision and can make out the shape of their guide skiing a few metres ahead of them would of course have an advantage over an athlete who has no vision whatsoever. So the clock would tick a bit slower for the skier with no vision to level the playing field.

The lone athlete classified B1 (no vision) in the men’s super-G race had a 60.85% factored time, for example, while Marcoux (who’s classified B3, which generally means less than 10% vision) had 89.85% factored time.

If you’ve got any questions about what you’re watching, you’re welcome to send us an e-mail and we’ll do our best to explain!

Wheelchair curling sits atop standings

Ottawa’s Collinda Joseph and the Canadian wheelchair curling team continued their impressive start to Paralympic competition by recording a decisive victory over Latvia on Day 2 to improve to 3-0.

The Canadians ultimately capitalized on a very unusual moment after the first end when officials moved a rock before it could be measured to see if Canada had scored a second point.

Given the chance to choose whether they wanted to score one point or replay the end, Canada decided to play again, and this time they earned four points. Canada stole four more in the fifth end to dance on to a 10-3 win in six ends (or should we say seven)?

“I’ve never seen anything like that, in all the games I’ve played over the years,” Dennis Theissen, the Canadian second, said via Curling Canada.

Canada is currently in first-place in the 11-team round robin and is just one of two undefeated teams alongside 2-0 Sweden.

Cancelled match nothing new for para ice hockey team

Today’s recap was initially supposed to include a summary of the Canadian para ice hockey team’s round robin match against the Russian Paralympic Committee, but of course that contest was cancelled when Russian athletes were expelled from the Games due to their country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Having one less match to play would be low on Team Canada’s wish list, having sat idle from international competition through the pandemic, and then getting plowed over by Team USA 5-0 in the tournament opener.

“Our opportunities to compete at major tournaments have been limited recently, so all that might have got the best of us,” Canadian captain Tyler McGregor told CBC after the game. “We were all really excited for this moment, and we just need to settle in and regroup for our next game against Korea.”

Last year, we reported on how female hockey players were getting the short end of the stick when it came to organizing international competition through COVID. Para hockey has found itself in a similar boat, with organizers seemingly lacking the same drive (read: dollar signs) to plow forward and put on events that aren’t as lucrative as men’s championships.

Tyrone Henry and Team Canada lost their Paralympics opener 5-0 to USA. Photo: CPC

The cancelled match vs RPC was also the only game Team Canada was scheduled to play in the evening back in the EST time zone – on a Saturday night no less. With most contests scheduled for the wee hours, that was another blow for a team that would still love to get more exposure for its sport.

Team Canada assistant captain Tyrone Henry of Ottawa noted in a pre-Games interview with the Ottawa Sports Pages’ Ethan Diamandas that he drew inspiration from watching the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic team.

“I’d like to kind of show that passion that I saw in those players at the time, and bring it forward to the next generation,” said Henry, who directs the intermediate division for Sledge Hockey of Eastern Ontario. “I’ve been looking at the game a bit bigger, and how big the growth in Canada could be with a gold medal around our necks, and how we can inspire the next generation.”

Canada will play Korea in the final match of the preliminary stage just after the clock strikes 12 tomorrow night, with the winner advancing directly the semi-finals, and the loser playing a quarter-final against an opponent from Group B, which is made up of lower-ranked nations (like the format for the Olympic women’s hockey competition).

Ottawa Paralympians’ Day 3 Schedule:

Day 3 preview: Collinda Joseph takes up curling at age 40, achieves Paralympic dream 16 years later

Collinda Joseph will be the lone local athlete on the Day 3 competition schedule. The 56-year-old is the eldest member of the Ottawa group competing in Beijing, but she’s also a rookie at the Paralympic Games – the reward for her 16-year journey in wheelchair curling, and a lifetime of dedication to sport before that.

She was a competitive springboard diver as a youth, but a train crash during a high school senior trip in France changed her trajectory into parasport. Wheelchair basketball was her first pursuit, and then she tried wheelchair curling for the first time as a 40-year-old at the RA Centre.

Collinda Joseph competing at the 2013 Canadian championships at the RA Centre. Photo: Dan Plouffe

“I was looking for something that was competitive but that wasn’t so taxing on my body,” Joseph said in a 2013 interview with the Sports Pages’ Josh Bell. “I decided to give it a try in 2006 and I was hooked.”

Although she wasn’t getting as bashed up on the ice, Joseph still had to spend lots of time weight training in the gym. Without the advantage of sweepers or a hack to push out of, wheelchair curlers must generate the full force of their shots with their arm, pushing the rock with a stick from a stationary position, and it took time before Joseph could deliver solid hits in games.

As her love and dedication for the sport increased, so did her Paralympic aspirations. Joseph would spend 15 hours curling and training during a regular week, on top of full-time work as a federal accessibility legislation analyst for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and her other job as mom to two daughters, who are now in their 20s.

Joseph had been on the long list under consideration for the 2014 Canadian Paralympic team and came closer to making it in 2018, but it wasn’t until the 2019 World Championships that she finally solidified her place on Team Canada.

“Being able to say that you did it, and all this work and all this time is worth it, because you got there and you reached your goal” is especially satisfying, Joseph said in a pre-Games interview with the Sports Pages’ Ethan Diamandas. “To be able to call myself a Paralympian has been really a lifelong dream.”

Joseph is the alternate for the team and may not see on-ice action during the tournament, though she’s certainly got to be ready to step into a prominent role if needed, which of course can’t be discounted in a COVID world.

“I feel like I really am a rookie, and I am just paying attention to [my teammates] a lot in how they approach the Games and leaning on their leadership to get us through,” noted Joseph, who’s playing for a team that’s hit the podium in every Paralympics (three gold, and one bronze in 2018).

“Wearing the Maple Leaf is a massive responsibility,” she added. “And one that I completely buy into, and I want to do well, and I want to perform well.”

Joseph noted that she’s always been a competitive person, whether that’s at the highest level of sport, or just playing cribbage, she laughed.

“I’m always driven to do better,” highlighted Joseph, who placed 5th, 2nd and 10th with Team Canada at the past three World Championships. “We’re expecting to medal (in Beijing). We do have the gold medal in our sights and that’s what we’re going for.”

This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Paralympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.

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