Memories of Nagano; Candace Cable finds competition, controversy at Paralympics
For Truckee sit-skier Candace Cable, a recent trip to Nagano, Japan, for the Paralympics was a combination of fun and learning experiences.
Fun because the Olympic Village and the Japanese people were so accommodating and helpful during her March visit.
A learning experience because there was controversy over the classifications of skiers, which led to disappointing finishes for some athletes who might have otherwise excelled.
After a long flight to Japan, the Paralympians were greeted by a sold-out crowd at the opening ceremony.
As the competition began, tens of thousands of fans lined up at the venues to watch.
“At all the events we had more than 12,000 people,” said Cable. “I talked to Marcus (Olympian Nash) and he said he didn’t think there were 12,000 at his events.”
The magnitude of the number of spectators at the cross-country events was underscored by the fact only 8,000 spectators attended the alpine events.
Cable raced in the 2.5K, with a seventh-place finish and placed ninth in both the 5K and 10K races.
Cable said the conditions were spring-like, with slushy snow around midmorning.
“The trees were in bloom and the days were warm,” Cable said.
The races were not without controversy, either.
Through a classification system being called, at best, questionable, by the participants, skiers who were able to walk were pitted equally with sit-skiers like Cable.
Normally, a factoring system is used, whereby more-abled skiers are essentially given less points to adjust for the difference in abilities.
The factoring system was used in Nagano, but some skiers who could walk were placed in the same category as Cable, a fact she is not particularly happy about.
“There were five countries protesting. I ended up getting killed by women who could walk,” said Cable. “When I ended up with a seventh in the 2.5K I knew we were fighting a losing battle. I would have been third without that problem.”
But Cable is not bitter about the experience, and she plans to become more active in the rule-making process to avoid a future problem.
“It was a good learning experience because we’ve never dealt with that before,” Cable said. “They haven’t changed the classification system since I started skiing.”
Cable said “changes need to be made,” including looking at lower-body disability as opposed to upper-body disability.
The Americans won two medals, with Boulder, Colo.’s Mike Crenshaw and sit-skier Bob Balk each taking home bronzes.
The hockey team earned a fifth place and the alpine ski team took home several medals.
Aside from the controversy, Cable said the trip was unforgettable and enjoyable, particularly the accommodations and activities sponsored by the Paralympic planners.
“The village was awesome. There was so much to do there,” she said.
The athletes stayed in the same Village constructed for the Olympics in February.
Cable said there was a Japanese cultural exhibit, a free beauty shop and disco for relaxing.
“At the cultural center there were arts and crafts done by disabled Japanese adults and kids,” she said.
Cable also enjoyed learning traditional Japanese crafts like origami on nights sponsored by the Olympic Village.
There was no shortage of entertainment in the Village, as singers and dancers were brought in for the athletes.
Schools also got into the act, with local students each adopting a nation and event.
The athletes got to know the children, who rooted for them during their events.
During the Paralympics, Cable got the opportunity to get out of the Village and see Japanese culture first-hand.
She said Nagano is a big city, with more than 300,000 residents, but not far outside the city are the rural areas, lush with fruit trees and orange groves.
“The Japanese Alps are gorgeous. They stand up next to the French and Swiss Alps in terms of majesty.”
Cable took a day trip to the Zenkoji Temple, where she was carried into an underground tunnel, a trip symbolic of the rebirth of the soul.
The food in Nagano was equally impressive. While there was a McDonald’s in the Village, the athletes could choose from various local dishes, including assembly-line sushi.
“They really tried to make it a special event and they were successful,” Cable said of the planners.
So successful, in fact, that the planners of the Salt Lake City Paralympics were on hand to learn from the Nagano experience. Cable said many of the athletes toured the Olympic Village doubting that any other city could live up to the success of Nagano.
“It was an event that anyone who was there will treasure. It’s how an Olympics or Paralympics should be.”
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