The Paralympics were officially opened Friday by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, despite escalating tensions on the Crimean Peninsula 600 miles to the west. Two Alaskans -- 45-year-old Joe Tompkins of Juneau and 22-year-old Andrew Kurka of Palmer -- will be competing for Team USA at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
Palmer’s Kurka was named to the 26-member U.S. Paralympics alpine ski team Feb. 5 and is the top-ranked downhill mono-skier in the world:
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.
Kurka is the second youngest athlete on Paralympics Team USA and Tompkins -- who’s making his fourth Paralympics appearance -- is the second oldest.
Tompkins arrived in Sochi on Monday and told the Juneau Empire that “it is pretty nice” in Olympic Village, where he and other athletes were relaxing in preparation for the games.
The U.S. and Britain have both pulled delegations from the Paralympics. But as of Friday Kurka, Tompkins and other Team USA athletes were still slated to compete in the Sochi games. Here's the schedule for men's downhill alpine skiing at Sochi, events that both Kurka and Tompkins will be competing in.
Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games
Anchorage Daily News