Palmer mono-skier likes chances in Sochi

bbragg@adn.comFebruary 5, 2014 

Downhill skier Andrew Kurka of Palmer wants to make an impact in Sochi, and not only on the ski slopes where he will be among the favorites for a medal.

Kurka on Wednesday was named to the 26-member alpine ski team that will represent the United States at the Paralympics, which begin a few days after the Winter Olympics end. He is the top-ranked downhill mono-skier in the world, and his dreams are big as he heads to Russia.

Part of his plan is to win a medal. Another is to change the world.

"I'm just happy it's finally televised, because honestly, it will change lives," he said. "There will be people at home sitting in wheelchairs, watching, and saying 'I didn't know I could ski.' ''

Kurka, 22, joined the world of disabled sports not long after he was partially paralyzed in a four-wheeler accident at Jim Creek in 2005, when he was 13.

Already an athlete, he adapted superbly, winning a wrestling championship, entering bodybuilding contests and learning to ski with Challenge Alaska at age 16.

Mono-skiing turned out to be his thing, the faster the better. Not only is he in the running to claim the World Cup globe in downhill, Kurka ranks 10th in super-G standings, top 20 in giant slalom and top 30 in slalom.

Early last month he claimed a gold medal at a World Cup downhill in Canada, and more recently he posted two fifth-place finishes in World Cup races in Tignes, France.

"It really makes me quite confident going into Sochi," Kurka said. "I know I certainly have a chance to win in Sochi. I've beaten everyone who I'm going to be racing against, and I know I can do it again."

Kurka was one of two Alaskans named to the Paralympics team. The other is mono-skier Joe Tompkins of Juneau, who will be making his fourth Paralympics appearance.

The two practically bookend the team. Kurka is the second-youngest; Tompkins, at 45, is the second-oldest (the oldest is 52-year-old Chris Devlin-Young).

Tompkins raced at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Paralympics, with his best finishes coming in 2002 when he placed sixth in two events.

Tompkins hasn't raced since February 2012, according to the Juneau Empire, but he earned a spot on the team based on his past record. He'll have to finish some races this week and next at a race series in Aspen, Colo., to cement his Paralympic eligibility.

"That was a surprise, man," Kurka said. "I know he's planning on retiring this year. I haven't seen him this year at any races or training camps. I think this is his last go at it.

"It'll be awesome to have him around."

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

 

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