While much of the upcoming sports coverage has been devoted to two main events — think the Super Bowl and the 2014 Winter Olympics — far less has been focused on the Paralympic Games. To combat this, we’ve compiled a list of facts about the XI Paralympic Winter Games, which will be held in Sochi, Russia, from March 7 to 16.
1. During a national competition to create ideas for Sochi mascots, the 2014 winners — Ray of Light and Snowflake — were selected by Paralympic champions. Both have accompanying legends that account for their origins, but the gist is that they came from faraway galaxies to embody and relay Paralympic values: bravery, equality, determination, inspiration, and strength of spirit.
2. The Paralympic Games in Sochi will see athletes compete in five different sports: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country, sled hockey, and wheelchair curling competitions. There are expected to be approximately 700 athletes from 45 countries in participation. This is a significant improvement from Vancouver 2010, where there were 506 athletes from 44 nations.
3. Turkey, which has never won a medal at the Olympic Winter Games, will make its Paralympic debut at the 2014 event.
4. Alpine skiing is the largest sport at the Paralympic Winter Games, with 32 medal events. It includes four disciplines: downhill slalom, giant slalom, super-giant, and standing snowboard cross, the latter of which is a new addition.
5. The U.S. won the gold in Vancouver for sled hockey in 2010, but only time will tell if they’ll be able to repeat: Since sled hockey debuted in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994, no country has ever successfully defended the gold medal back to back.
6. Ragnhild Myklebust, a Norwegian Nordic skier, holds the record for most medals ever won at the Winter Paralympics: 27, 22 of which are gold. That’s five more than Olympic record holder Michael Phelps, who has 22, 18 of which are gold.
7. Though the first Paralympic Winter Games were only open to athletes with spinal cord injuries, the 2014 event welcomes athletes in six classifications: spinal injury, amputee, visual impairment, cerebral palsy, and Les Autres, or competitors whose disabilities do not fit under the other five categories.