Para-skier Jade hopes Games will inspire others

Jade Etherington, right, and her guide Caroline Powell in Sochi EMN-140303-150814001
Jade Etherington, right, and her guide Caroline Powell in Sochi EMN-140303-150814001
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Bourne’s para-alpine skier will be going for gold this week as she takes on the world’s best at the Sochi 2014 Paralympics.

Jade Etherington, 22, who is partially-sighted, will be taking to the slopes tomorrow to compete for her first medal in the Downhill.

The former Deepings School pupil competes as part of a team with guide Caroline Powell, who skis in front of her to give radio directions.

Etherington was born with Axenfield’s syndrome, a genetic condition that causes fluid blockages in the eye and can lead to total blindness.

Despite only having about five per cent of her full vision and struggling with everyday tasks such as crossing the road, Etherington skis at speeds of about 60mph.

Visually-impaired skiing takes great trust and teamwork but in Powell, Etherington feels she has found a winning combination.

Etherington said: “Within a team you have to know what to say and what happens if I was stressed at the beginning or the start gate. Caroline knows what to do.

“Caroline has great energy on the hill and I have learned that I need that and that works very well.”

On the eve of her biggest ever race, Etherington reflects on how lucky she is to be at the Sochi Games.

Without a key bronze medal performance in the Super-G at the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships in La Molina, Spain, she would not have had the funding to get to the Games.

Etherington said: “I wouldn’t have been able to carry on racing. I needed to get that result .

“It is so expensive, I mean the travel, the accommodation, our skis, and obviously I have a guide so it’s double the cost. It is difficult because UK Sport don’t cover all of the costs.”

Great Britain has never won a gold medal at the winter Paralympics and the visually-impaired skiing in Sochi represents one of the best chances of coming top of the podium. Etherington and her GB team-mate Kelly Gallagher are seen as prime medal favourites.

The trainee teacher’s rise to the top has been relatively quick, first taking to the slopes on a family holiday at eight years old, before joining the The British Disabled Ski Team in 2009.

Etherington hopes that any success she and her GB team-mates may have will inspire other skiers in the future.

She said: “There will be lots more attention drawn towards our sport and how good it is and fun. And that there can be success even though we are from a country which doesn’t have as many mountains.

“It will be something that I will never ever forget for the rest of my life and hopefully it will influence a generation of skiers and the next generation of people to come out and enjoy the sport as much as I do.”

Etherington and Powell have been winning slalom and giant slalom medals on the World Cup circuit around the globe and their best shot at gold is likely to be next weekend.

Jade’s Schedule

Saturday - Downhill

Channel 4 coverage starting at 6am

The Downhill discipline involves the highest speeds and therefore the greatest risks of all the alpine events.

Competitors are allowed to prepare on the course but only get one run in competition.

A typical Downhill course begins at or near the top of the mountain and the gates are placed further apart than other alpine racing disciplines.

The course is designed to challenge the best skiers in a variety of ways: skiing at high speeds, through challenging turns, shallow dips, flats, and small jumps.

Monday - Super G

Channel 4 coverage starts at 6am

Super giant slalom or Super-G is regarded as a speed event, in contrast to the technical events giant slalom and slalom.

Much like the faster Downhill a Super G course consists of widely-set gates that racers must turn around. The course is set so that skiers must turn more than in Downhill, though the speeds are still much higher than in Giant Slalom.

Each athlete only has one run to clock the best time.

In the Olympics, Super G courses are usually set on the same slopes as the Downhill, but with a lower starting point.

Tuesday - Super Combined

Channel 4 coverage starts at 5.30am

The Super Combined consists of a single run of slalom and normally a shortened downhill run or a super G run. The winner is the skier with the fastest aggregate time.

Friday, March 14 - Slalom

Channel 4 coverage starts at midday, second run 3pm

Slalom involves skiing between poles (gates) spaced much closer together than in Giant Slalom, Super-G or Downhill, requiring skiers to make quicker and shorter turns.

Slalom and Giant Slalom (GS) are the technical events of alpine ski racing. This category separates them from the speed events of Super-G and Downhill.

A course is constructed by laying out a series of gates. Gates are formed by alternating pairs of red and blue poles. The skier must pass between the two poles forming the gate, with the tips of both skis and the skier’s feet passing between the poles.

Athletes get two runs on different courses, with the quickest combined time from the two runs taking gold.

Sunday, March 16 - Giant slalom

Channel 4 coverage of the first run starts at 5.30am, second run 9.30am

Giant slalom involves skiing between sets of poles (gates) spaced at a greater distance from each other than in Slalom but less than in Super-G. The technical events are normally composed of two runs, held on different courses.