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Lake Placid set to make sliding history again

A competitor starts a run at the top of Mount Van Hoevenberg’s track with a mechanical pushing device during the 2019 Para Bobsleigh World Championships on March 30. News file photo — Lou Reuter

LAKE PLACID — This village — the host of the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games — will make history once again next February, this time in the sport of para bobsledding.

On May 18, the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation’s Executive Committee accepted a proposal from USA Bobsled and Skeleton and the Olympic Regional Development Authority to include the Para Bobsleigh World Championships with the 2021 IBSF Bobsled & Skeleton World Championships scheduled for the first part of February at Mount Van Hoevenberg. 

In the past the events have been held separately. This will be the first time the para races are being run at the same time as the able-bodied championships. 

“IBSF accepted the proposal for inclusion in the 2021 World Championships based on the commitment demonstrated by USABS and the Organizing Committee, as well as a letter signed by Para athletes from around the world,” stated a release from USABS.

The Para Bobsleigh World Championship training and races would take place first.

From the right, Canada’s Lonnie Bissonette, Corie Mapp of Great Britain and Sweden’s Sebastian Westin took the top three spots on the podium on March 30, 2019 when Lake Placid hosted the Para Bobsleigh World Championships. News file photos — Lou Reuter

Para bobsledders pilot specially designed monobobs started by a mechanical launcher. The competitors may have spinal cord injuries, above knee amputations, double below knee amputations or other disabilities that compromise the athlete’s ability to push their sled. 

“By submitting this proposal to IBSF, USA Bobsled Skeleton and the Olympic Regional Development Authority have supported the growth of Para Bobsleigh as the sport moves toward inclusion in the 2026 Paralympic Winter Games in Cortina,” the press release states.

USABS CEO Aron McGuire said he is excited that Lake Placid will host such a historic event. 

“We love to have home field advantage. … We know it’s going to put our athletes in the best position to be successful,” McGuire said. “This is a chance to really showcase it (para bobsledding) and highlight it as an event and show the world what’s possible.”

The 2020-2021 para bobsled World Cup schedule has not yet been announced. 

This would be the third year in a row international para bobsledding is scheduled to be held at the Mount Van Hoevenberg sliding track. Lake Placid hosted the Para Bobsleigh World Championships in 2019 and a World Cup in February.

Para bobsledding history

According to the IBSF, para bobsledding got its start during the winter of 2002-03 with the Utah National Ability Center. U.S. athletes Aaron Lanningham (paraplegic) and Gary Kuhl (below knee amputee) were the first para bobsledders to successfully drive down the sliding track at Park City, Utah. 

In 2010, the IBSF Para Sport Committee was formed to get para bobsled and para skeleton included in the Paralympic Winter Games. The first formal international driving school for both sports was sponsored by USABS during the 2011-12 season. In all, 17 athletes from six nations participated.

The first recognized international competition for para sliding athletes was on March 23, 2013 in Sigulda, Latvia during the Prince Kropotkin Cup. 

In 2014, the IPC officially recognized the IBSF as the international federation for para bobsled and para skeleton. The first official World Cups for the sports were held during the 2014-15 season in Park City, Utah; Igls, Austria; and St. Moritz, Switzerland. The first World Championships for para bobsled and para skeleton were held in March 2016 in Park City. The first time women competed in the Para Bobsleigh World Championships was in 2017 at St. Moritz.

Paralympic Winter Games

The IBSF has not yet been successful in getting its para sports included in the Paralympic Winter Games. In September 2016, the IPC provisionally accepted para bobsled for inclusion in the program for the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, China, but the sport was not included when the program was announced in 2018.

“The decision of the IPC comes with a big surprise,” IBSF President Ivo Ferriani said in a statement after the IPC announcement. “I would be lying not to admit it is very disappointing. Nevertheless, we will work with the IPC to be included for 2026 and will not give up our parasport program.”

The following sports are included in the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games program: alpine skiing, Nordic skiing (biathlon, cross-country skiing), snowboard, sled ice hockey and wheelchair curling.

The IPC is expected to vote on para bobsled’s inclusion in the 2026 Paralympic Winter Games later this summer.

World Championships

Since the Para Bobsleigh World Championships were held in 2016 at Park City, they’ve been hosted by three other cities since: St. Moritz in 2017, Lillehammer, Norway, in 2018, and Lake Placid in 2019. 

The 2020 World Championships set for March 24-25 in Lillehammer were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They may be held in the fall this year. 

Exact dates for the 2021 Para Bobsleigh World Championships have not been released.