Summit residents win at season-opening para-snowboard Europa Cup
Ahead of Beijing 2022, U.S. athletes say China has increased presence on World Cup circuit
FRISCO — Though the United States doesn’t have an official contingent at this week’s Europa and World Cup para banked slalom competitions in Landgraaf, Netherlands, Summit County-based Adaptive Action Sports riders are ready to rep the red, white and blue at SnowWorld Landgraaf.
At Tuesday’s season-opening Europa Cup competition, the Copper Mountain Resort-based riders dropped into the season with a rollicking start.
Pyeongchang 2018 Paralympic gold medalist Mike Minor of Frisco and Denver-native and Wildernest resident Zach Miller each won their respective racing divisions at the one-of-a-kind indoor competition venue. Minor sped down the 18-turn banked slalom course in 43.88 seconds, the fastest of any of the more than 80 riders from 17 countries who competed across para-snowboarding divisions that classify based on upper- and lower-limb conditions and amputations.
As he had the Europa Cup win locked down after his first run, Minor hucked some tricks on what amounted to a celebration run his second time down the course, attempting his trademark front flip to excite his Adaptive Action Sports teammates at the venue dubbed “the freezer.”
“It’s really a unique event,” Olympic and X Games snowboard and skateboard medalist Minor said. “I don’t think we ride another event the whole season that’s close to it. Some people don’t enjoy riding indoors, but I think it’s fun.”
Tuesday’s Europa Cup event featured the same elite para-snowboarders who will compete at Wednesday and Thursday’s World Cup events, which also will be banked slalom and take place on the same course, the only change being where gates are located.
For Minor, who returns to the World Cup circuit this season after taking a season off in 2018-19, Tuesday’s competition was proof that China and other countries are gearing up to contend at Beijing 2022 after the U.S. cleaned up at Pyeongchang 2018.
With 82 snowboarders, Tuesday was the largest Europa Cup in history and also featured for the first time a women’s upper-limb division after Summit County local Kiana Clay was the division’s pioneer in 2018-19. Though Clay isn’t in the Netherlands to compete this week, Minor and Miller said 10 women from China, Hungary, Switzerland and Russia are new snowboarders for the division.
“But I noticed the biggest growth in China,” Minor said. “They put together, I think their team is 22 or 25 people now, which I think might be bigger than the United States. And their coach was actually the old coach for Canada. He’s been putting in work with those guys, and he straight up told me, ‘I ain’t letting you have a cakewalk this year. I’m going to give you some competition.’”
The 20-year-old Denver-native Miller notched his first career Europa or World Cup win by posting the second-fastest overall time for the day, a 45.33, to win the lower-limb two racing division. Miller competes in LL2 because he’s lived with and battled cerebral palsy his entire life. It was while being treated at Children’s Hospital Colorado as a child when Miller fell in love with snowboarding, a passion that led him to his first para-snowboard World Cup competition at age 14 in Aspen.
But it wasn’t until last season when Miller podiumed on the World Cup circuit, earning eight medals in 11 attempts. The success earned Miller a spot on the U.S. Para Snowboard Team, which helped him to improve his skill enough to win his first Europa or World Cup event Tuesday, he said.
“It took a lot of time for me to build myself up the ranks because I was super young, super small, and so there was just not a lot of momentum and speed I could generate on a course,” Miller said. “I’ve been training with Adaptive Action Sports, and because I’ve been training with Team USA, I’ve finally really been able to unlock my potential as an athlete to get on the top of the podium.
“That was pretty cool to finally come through the finish line and hear the announcer announce that ‘45.33.’ I didn’t expect it, so when she said it, I clapped my hands together so hard that they hurt for the next 15 minutes. That was a pretty cool moment.”
A trio of other Summit County-based Adaptive Action Sports athletes — Garret Geros, Joe Pleban and Alex Rivera — also competed Tuesday, each finishing in the top 10 in their respective divisions.
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