The Olympic Torch may have gone out last Sunday in Sochi, Russia, closing the 2014 Winter Olympics, but for a different group of the world’s elite athletes, the games have yet to begin. From skiers unable to see to hockey players without the use of their legs, this week the best athletes in the world of adaptive sports will take over the Russian Olympic facilities in preparation for next week’s Paralympic Winter Games, March 7-16. And when the Paralympic opening ceremonies kick off this Friday, one local Sochi-bound resident will already know he’s a winner. Former Summit High School teacher and U.S. Paralympic team Nordic coach Jon Kreamelmeyer will be inducted to the Paralympic Hall of Fame for his work as a guide for vision-impaired athletes and as the U.S. Nordic coach. The ceremony will take place in Sochi, March 8.
“It’s kind of a surprise,” the humble 67-year-old told the Daily. “I didn’t expect it.”
Kreamelmeyer said he only found out about the honor recently via email. And when he heard, he said he wasn’t sure he was even eligible as the guidelines for induction state that any athlete or coach nominated has to have been away from competition since the 2010 Vancouver games.
Kreamelmeyer’s concern was that he continues to be involved with the Paralympics as a classifier — a person who judges athletes’ levels of disability based on a percentage system in order to level the playing field. He said he reached out to IPC (International Paralympic Committee) officials to let them know of his position, and they assured him he was still eligible since he was no longer a coach.
“I was blown away by it. I’m honored,” he said of his induction, quickly adding that he didn’t deserve full credit. “I’m really humbled by it. An individual honor is nice, but it’s not just one guy alone,” he said of coaching. “I wish I could divide it up into pieces.”
Kreamelmeyer credited fellow coaches Jon ‘Zeke’ Zdechlik — now with Frisco Adventure Park— and Scott Peterson — who also has ties to Summit County — along with all the athletes he worked with during his tenure as coach.
Kreamelmeyer first got involved in adaptive coaching in 1991 as a guide for blind Nordic skier Michelle Drolet. After an appearance at the ‘92 Paralympics in Albertville, France, the pair won a bronze medal in the ‘94 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
Kreamelmeyer then retired from teaching in 1999 and became the head coach of the Paralympic Nordic team leading them to 11 Paralympic medals between 1998-2006. He stepped away from coaching in 2010 after the games in Vancouver, Canada.
Kreamelmeyer became interested in the adaptive athlete classification process after one of his skiers missed out on a potential medal because the old system determined he was significantly less disabled than another competitor and subjected to a time adjustment.
“The idea of the percent system is to try to level the playing field. It can be controversial,” he said.
He’s since worked with other Paralympic officials to reform the system, and now works to evaluate incoming athletes level of disability.
Kreamelmeyer will join two fellow inductees at the enshrinement Saturday, visually-impaired skiers Eric Villalon Fuentes of Spain and Verena Bentele of Germany.
He will leave for Sochi Monday morning in preparation for the games. “I was going to Russia anyway as a classifier,” he said.
Summit to Sochi Paralympians
Kreamelmeyer won’t be the only one with Summit County ties headed to Sochi this week for the Paralympics. Forty-year-old Alpine sit skier Scott Meyer and 34-year-old snowboarder Amy Purdy will be headed there to compete. Meyer, who is on the Alpine B team, suffered a spinal cord injury at age 19 working for a cargo loading business. Purdy, the world No. 2-ranked adaptive snowboarder, had her legs amputated below the knee at age 19 because of complications due to meningitis. Purdy is a likely medal favorite.
The games open March 7, with a number of events to be broadcast on NBC.