By Mike Rowbottom

Mike RowbottomWhen a 15-year-old adaptive snowboarder, Zach Beaumont, was chosen to light the torch at BC Place during the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games in Vancouver (pictured, below), it showcased a sport with a swiftly growing following in Canada - and one with commensurately growing hopes of inclusion at the next Paralympics in Sochi 2014.

At the other end of the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics, the International Paralympic Committee's (IPC) chief executive, Xavier Gonzalez, acknowledged interest in additional events for Sochi 2014 and said he expected to receive submissions from groups championing adaptive snowboarding, standing hockey, bobsleigh and luge, and long-track speed skating.

Vancouver Olympic torch
Of all the proposed sports, adaptive snowboarding - or para-snowboarding, as it is now known - looked the most promising, given that it had already hosted World Cup events since 2008 and a World Championship for the first time in 2009.

On August 1, 2010, belief among the world's growing number of para-snowboarders that their sport could become a Paralympic event rose still further when the IPC and the World Snowboard Federation agreed to work together to develop the sport that used to be called adaptive snowboard.

The organisations signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which covered areas such as management, competition co-ordination, development and certification of officials and classifiers, and media and communication.

Almost exactly a year later, para-snowboard got the news.

The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics would introduce a series of new events, including women's ski jumping, team events for figure skating and luge, ski halfpipe for men and women, ski and snowboard slopestyle and biathlon mixed relay.

The proposal made by the IPC in collaboration with the WSF to include men's and women's para-snowboard cross at Sochi 2014 had been rejected by the Games' Organising Committee.

The IPC and the WSF responded that they were "very disappointed", adding in a release that it was their hope that the inclusion of the two snowboard events would have created the bases for further development of the sport of para-snowboard.

"Over the 2010-2011 season the WSF and the IPC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to help further develop the sport of para-snowboard. After a successful season of hosting four World Cups in Europe and North America, both organisations were confident the outcome had made a positive impression on the Organising Committee," a joint release said.

The rejection impacted most strongly on the hosts of the 2010 Winter Games, who had been in the forefront of pioneering Para-snowboard.

"Canada's been a leader, both national and international, in the development of the sport, and we're certainly quite disappointed that the addition wasn't made to the programme,"  Rob Needham, executive director of sport for the Canadian Paralympic Committee told "Many of our Canadian athletes are among the best in the world and have been building towards this opportunity."

cross country
One of those athletes is Tyler Mosher, who became adaptive snowboarding's first world champion in 2009 and took part in the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics in the cross-country skiing event. Paralysed in a snowboarding accident 10 years ago, Mosher, a resident of Whistler, Colorado, has since regained 60 per cent mobility in his legs.

As one of the leading advocates for para-snowboard's inclusion in the Olympic Movement, he was naturally hugely disappointed by the Sochi decision - but he is already looking beyond that horizon to the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"The official reason for declining the request is unknown to me, but it is clear to everybody that it wasn't made in the spirit of the Games," Mosher told insideworldparasport.

"As for 2018, we are working on that right now and hope for inclusion and acceptance within the next eight months.

"I hope Sochi rescinds their decision so I am young enough to fight for gold, but, if we get into 2018, programmes will develop and my eight years of work will be complete."

It was acknowledged at the start of 2010 that there was work to be done in preparing Para-snowboard for Paralympic inclusion, especially in the area of fine-tuning the classification system used in other adaptive sports to snowboarding - that is, factoring in the particulars of athletes' disabilities to level the playing field in competitions.

The system had already worked at World Cup events, but it needed to be evaluated by the IPC.

Mosher, however, insists that process had been worked through. "I'm very happy that we met all the criteria last year for the IPC to want us to be part of the Paralympic Games," he said. "But, of course, the host nation gets to make the final decision and, for whatever reasons, the Russian organising committee didn't include para-snowboard in the Games. Although they did include a bunch of able-bodied sports."

vancouver 2010
The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games will take place from March 7 until 16, 2014, with Russia expected to be one of the top nations after their performance at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Paralympics, at which they topped the medal table with 38 podium places, 12 of which were gold.

Asked why he thought that decision had been made, Tyler responded: "I only know rumours and the polite way to say it is 'why would they say no?' Generally speaking, a host nation wants to dominate and I know the Russian NPC definitely wants the best medal count and they do not have any para-snowboarders or a snowboard team currently competing.

"Now, we who've been doing this for a while are continually finding snowboarders riding with a disability on their own, without a 'para' or 'adaptive' umbrella organisation, and I am sure there are many Russian riders who are out there we do not know about."

That is the conundrum. Why would Russia develop a team if snowboarding isn't in the Paralympic games? But why or how would other national teams be developed if funding for Para sports is directly linked to inclusion of the IPC Paralympic programme?

"After several years without inclusion, we've put the cart in front of the horse and developed the sport on our own. Last year, the IPC accepted we were at the level for inclusion and proposed  para-snowboarding be included in the Sochi (pictured, below) programme.

"We developed World Cups with more than 10 nations on three continents, a classification system by IPC classifiers and a sport that is exciting. It would be an event within Alpine for 2014 then develop into a cross sport as a sport for 2018.

"The actual sport involves timed 'sling-shot' runs down a boarder-cross course. The reason for developing this format is it is exciting to the young riders who want to do tricks in slopestyle and halfpipe, but it is also timed, so classification factors can be included.

"It was felt the traditional snowboard GS and slalom were outdated and unpopular with today's riders.

"I had my accident in 2000 and, in 2001, I realised snowboarding wasn't a sport for the disabled, so I started inquiring about that..."

By 2003, Mosher had raised a proposal at the Canadian Snowboard Federation's AGM and the organisation took on the responsibility of making the sport accessible to those with disability. Meanwhile, Mosher was learning the art of snowboarding all over again.

By 2005, he had attended his first international competition. Two years later, he was a prime mover in the hosting of the first para-snowboard World Cup at Whistler Blackcomb.

Mosher hasn't looked back since - and he is looking determinedly forwards still...

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the past five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames. Mike's Twitter feed can be accessed here.