Amid Russia’s expansion of control in the region of Crimea, leaders of the 2014 Winter Paralympics hope Russia and Ukraine observe the peace during the Winter Games. Russia’s involvement in Ukraine has quickly elevated post-Sochi Olympics and has generated global concern as the Russian troops have headed to the pro-Russia east side of Crimea. Military action taken by the Winter Games host country has prompted the White House to cancel the presidential delegation to the Sochi Paralympics, just four days before the Opening Ceremony, but it still remains in full support of U.S. athletes competing overseas.
"In addition to other measures we are taking in response to the situation in Ukraine, the United States will no longer send a presidential delegation to the upcoming Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi," said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden, The Associated Press reported. Currently, the U.S. and its allies are weighing sanction and other potential consequences to convince Russia to pull back its forces in Ukraine. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday and made it blatantly clear Russia could potentially face political and economic isolation if they fail to observe the peace.
The six-person presidential delegation, originally announced on Feb. 7, would have been led by, among others, Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, who lost both her legs in Iraq; three-time Paralympic bronze medalist Sandra Dukat; and wrestler Anthony Robles, who won an NCAA title after being born with one leg, NBC Sports reported. For last month’s Sochi Olympics, the U.S. delegation included three openly gay former athletes: figure skater Brian Boitano, tennis player Billie Jean King, and hockey player Caitlin Cahow. This marked the first time since the 2000 Sydney Games that the U.S. presidential delegation did not include the president, the first lady, and the vice president. This response was viewed as a direct shot at Russia’s anti-gay laws that were the center of controversy during the Winter Games.
The U.S. has previously boycotted Olympic competitions in Russia as American official and athletes, along with 64 other nations did not attend the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow during the Cold War. The U.S. protested against the Soviet-led invasion of Afghanistan at the time — a war that lasted nine years. Unlike the 1980 Summer Games, American athletes will still compete, along with about 700 athletes from 45 nations in five sports and seven disciplines from March 7 to March 16.
According to the official website of the Paralympic Movement, the Paralympics are a biennial event alternating between the Summer and Winter Games for elite athletes with any disability, but these games are not to be confused with the Special Olympics that are for athletes with an intellectual disability. These Games involve athletes from several disability categories, including the main six: amputee, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability (currently under suspension), visually impaired, spinal injuries, and Les Autres (a category that includes other conditions that do not fall into the previous categories).
The U.S. has an 80-member team that is considered to be the largest team that has ever been sent to a Paralympic Winter Games. There are 32 returning Paralympians who have won a combined haul of 50 Paralympic medals, including seven-time Paralympian Allison Jones (Colorado Springs, Colo.), five-time Paralympian Chris Devlin-Young (Bethlehem, N.H.), four four-time Paralympians, eight three-time Paralympians, and 18 two-time Paralympians, according to Team USA. “I am confident that this group of talented athletes is going to represent our country well both on and off the ice and snow. With the expanded platform of television coverage provided in partnership with NBC, these athletes are not only going to captivate the country, but also inspire the next generation of athletes following in their footsteps,” said SOC CEO Scott Blackmun.
To meet the Team USA athletes for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, click here.