The Paralympic Games are about to get underway on the slopes of PyeongChang.
Andre Cupido and Olivia Silk take a look at the Australian athletes in action.
For the first time in Australia, the Winter Paralympics will be broadcast on commercial television, with Channel 7 picking up from its coverage of last month’s competition in PyeongChang.
For the next 10 days, there’ll be 15 Aussie athletes vying for Gold at the 2018 Paralympic Games… with the squad comprising para-alpine skiers (including three sighted guides) and para-snowboarders.
We haven’t won Gold in these Games since Salt Lake City in 2002, when Australia’s most successful Winter Olympian, Michael Milton, brought home four and Bart Bunting came home with two of his own. Australia will be desperate to break the drought and at least better their performance in Sochi in 2014, where just two medals were won.
Mitchell Gourley and Joany Badenhorst have been announced as co-captains of the Australian team, with Badenhorst also announced as Australia’s first-ever female Paralympic Flag Bearer.
Mitchell Gourley (Co-Captain) – The reigning World Champion will lead the Australian team in his third consecutive Paralympics, having made his Olympic debut in Vancouver in 2010. Announced as Australia’s Ski & Snowboard Para-athlete of the Year in 2016 and 2017, Gourley will be hoping to improve on his performance in Sochi, where he recorded a DNF in the Slalom, Giant Slalom and Super-G – while finishing fifth and seventh in the Super-combined and Downhill respectively.
Patrick Jensen (Sighted guide: Lara Falk) – 22-year-old Jensen was hoping to make his Olympic debut at Beijing in 2022, but a career-defining performance at the World Para-alpine Skiing Championships last year earned him selection in this year’s Australian Paralympic team. Jensen, who was diagnosed with a type of macular dystrophy known as Stargardt disease at just seven years old, will be competing with his sighted guide, Lara Falk, and is certainly in with a chance.
Jonty O’Callaghan – O’Callaghan discovered his passion for winter sports when he moved to Switzerland while he was still in primary school. Born with cerebral palsy affecting his right-side, O’Callaghan makes his Paralympic debut in PyeongChang in the Para-Alpine skiing discipline. The Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Melbourne will be looking to build on his successful World Championships campaign in Tarvisio, Italy.
Victoria Pendergast – Pendergast made her Olympic debut in Sochi 2014, where she became Australia’s first Paralympic sit-skier. Winning a silver and bronze medal at the 2012/13 IPC Alpine Skiing NorAm Cup and silver in the Women’s Slalom Sitting at the 2013/14 IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup, she hopes to follow in the footsteps of Paralympic champions Alana Nichols and Laurie Stephens. She’ll be out to win her first Olympic medal after finishing eighth and tenth in Sochi.
Melissa Perrine (Sighted guide: Christian Geiger) – Perrine has enjoyed a stellar career as an alpine skier, ever since her impressive debut in the 2009/10 IPC Alpine Skiing NorAm Cup where she finished with a silver medal. She went onto to make her Paralympic debut in Vancouver the following year, starring with a fifth-place in the downhill, seventh in the Super-G and eighth in the Slalom. At the 2015 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships, Perinne won a remarkable five medals – including three gold, a silver and a bronze, and goes into the 2018 Games having won a medal in all previous World Cup campaigns. She’s definitely a Gold-medal contender.
Mark Soyer – Soyer is living testament to the adage; ‘persistence and perseverance know no failure’ after enduring significant hardship in his quest for Olympic representation. Having being diagnosed with leukemia twice, severing his spinal cord soon-after in 2004, missing out on the Australian Olympic team in 2010 and 2014, and breaking 12 ribs and his collarbone last year – Soyer can finally experience the jubilation of Olympic stardom. The dual New Zealand Winter Games bronze medallist will be competing in Alpine Skiing.
Sam Tait – Tait became a paraplegic when he broke his T11 vertebrae in a motorcycle accident at just 22-years-old. He spent the following three months in intensive rehabilitation but had his sights firmly set on competing at the Paralympics in Beijing in 2022. After placing fourth in the Men’s Super-G Sitting at the 2016/17 World Para-alpine Skiing Europa Cup, Tait can now officially call himself an Olympian after earning selection in this year’s Australian team. He’ll be hoping to emulate the success of his hero, Kurt Fearnley.
Shaun Pianta (Sighted guide: Jeremy O’Sullivan) – Pianta only recently received the all-clear to be a part of the team after successfully passing a fitness test on his injured right knee. The 29-year-old tore his anterior cruciate ligament on January 17. He’ll be aided by sighted guide, O’Sullivan.
Joany Badenhorst – The 23-year-old Snowboard Cross star will fly the Australian flag at the Opening Ceremony in PyeongChang. Badenhorst was the first female selected in the Australian team back in 2014. But she was unable to compete in Sochi, due to a knee injury suffered in training. This year she is set to make an impact after being named co-captain following a successful year that included winning the 2016/17 IPC World Cup Crystal Globe. She also won two bronze medals at the 2017 IPC Para-Snowboard World Championships.
Simon Patmore – Patmore will compete in his first Winter Paralympic Games after making the transition to Snowboarding in 2014. He already boasts an Olympic medal for athletics, from the 2012 London Paralympics. The move to snowboarding has been highly rewarding so far for Patmore, having won Gold at the 2016 IPC Snowboard World Cup in the Snowboard Cross. Patmore will also be competing in the Banked Slalom, a new event to the Paralympic program this year.
Sean Pollard – Pollard was an electrician and surfer before he lost his arm in a shark attack in Western Australia in 2014. A holiday to Canada in 2015 inspired him to test snowboarding and now he’ll be making his debut for Australia in PyeongChang. Pollard has been competing professionally for Australia since 2016 and says one of his heroes is teammate, Ben Tudhope.
Ben Tudhope – The youngest competitor of the para-snowboarders is Tudhope. The 18-year-old is competing in his second Paralympic Games in the Snowboard Cross and Banked Slalom. Tudhope was the youngest athlete from any country at the 2014 Sochi Paralympics and finished 10th, which saw him bear the Australian flag at the Closing Ceremony. His career highlight so far is finishing third at the 2016 Winter X Games in the Snowboard Cross Adaptive.
The Games opening ceremony is tonight (Friday, March 9). You can follow all the action and read more about the athletes and events on the Australian Paralympic Committee website or via their Twitter feed, @AUSParalympics. – Andre Cupido and Olivia Silk