The 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games were one to remember: ParalympicsGB made history, earning their first-ever gold medal on snow in a men’s event in 46 years, the very first medal in a snowboarding event, and saw one British athlete surpass themselves as the nation’s most successful Winter Paralympian of all time.
ParalympicsGB sent its largest delegation of athletes since the 1988 Innsbruck Games, with 13 of the 24 athletes making their Games debut, and saw Hope Gordon become the first-ever British woman to compete in the Women’s Sprint Seated Cross Country. She finished 17th in the event, despite only taking up skiing a matter of months ago.
Phil Smith ParalympicsGB’s Chef de Mission at Beijing 2022, said: “These have been an historic Games for ParalympicsGB with so many magical performances across the team.
“This is the most competitive squad we have ever taken to a Paralympic Winter Games and is testament to all the hard work, excellence and incredible resilience of the athletes and the support staff that I have the privilege to work with and call teammates.”
Great Britain would come 14th on the medal table, with host China, Ukraine and Canada taking the top three positions. The Games were especially memorable for the Ukrainian team, whose delegation of 20 athletes earned 29 medals – their most successful haul to date, despite fears that they would not be able to attend the Games after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the spirit of the Games, a number of athletes expressed their support for the Ukrainian athletes, including gold medal-winning American cross-country skier Jake Adicoff, Ukrainian-born American multi-disciplinary powerhouse Oksana Masters, and ParalympicsGB’s own Millie Knight.
ParalympicsGB started out strong on the first day of the Games, with Millie Knight bagging a bronze in her first medal event of the Games on the slopes. The skier came third in the Women’s Downhill Visually Impaired with guide Brett Wild; fellow Brit Menna Fitzpatrick finished not far behind in fifth place. Millie said about her first medal of the Games: “Crossing the line with a smile on my face was our number one goal – we genuinely didn’t believe we were at the level that would get us a medal. This bronze is something very special.
“This medal ranks above our silver 4 years ago in PyeongChang – we are every different people and have gone through some tough things and it’s changed us. The conditions were perfect, absolutely unbelievable. The snow was amazing and the course had fantastic features. It was so much fun. We genuinely did not think a medal would be achievable, especially with the standard at the moment.”
Sunday turned out to be a monumental day for ParalympicsGB, with Neil Simpson taking the country’s first-ever gold medal on the slopes and Meena Fitzpatrick breaking records. Neil was guided by brother Andrew to gold in his debut Games, claiming first place in the Men’s Super-G Vision Impaired.
“I am just really thrilled, it’s not really sunk in yet. This is our first season doing Super-G. Initially, when we came down and Andrew said we had gone into first place, there was a bit of an anxious wait,” Neil told reporters after his historic victory. “I wasn’t thinking about it being a winning performance, I was just thinking that it was a good run. We put it all down on the line and really went for it, and I’m just very happy with the performance – it felt good.”
Menna Fitzpatrick earned a silver medal in the Women’s Super-G Vision Impaired, becoming the most decorated British Winter Paralympian in history. Menna had experienced some turbulence before the Games, breaking her leg just before the pandemic and being unable to ski with usual guide Katie Guest because of the latter testing positive for COVID before the Games.
She said: “Gary and I have trained quite a long time and have been building up the relationship, and that really helped coming into this. I am super happy he is my guide I couldn’t wish for anything better! I am so happy to be the most successful British Winter Paralympian; that is not what we came out to do today though. We went out to ski well, so to come out with a silver medal and a pretty amazing title as well means we are delighted. Just before the pandemic I broke my leg, Gary was guiding me at the time, and he was a great support during my rehab and to come through that and Covid as well make this really special.”
On Monday, Menna took to the slopes and added another medal to her record-breaking tally, taking bronze in the Super Combined Visually Impaired, bringing her medal total to six across two Games. Neil Simpson also added to his own medal haul, nabbing bronze in the men’s Super Combined Visually Impaired.
Mena said of her medal-winning performance: “We left ourselves a bit of work to do in slalom and the plan paid off, of going out there and putting down a pretty decent run, so we are super, super happy. The confidence is really, really high – it was quite a tricky slalom set actually with tight turns and lots of combinations. It was tough but really good fun to smash it in the slalom.”
ParalympicsGB had another first on Friday, when Ollie Hill earned Britain its first-ever medal in snowboarding, taking bronze in the men’s Banked Slalom SB-LL2. His fastest run was milliseconds faster than fellow Brit Owen Pick, who performed a personal best on the slopes.
Ollie told reporters in Beijing: “I can’t really sum it up right now other than I am absolutely stoked. I said earlier in the week I felt I had a bit more confidence in the banked and we have proved it today. It was important to put down a good first run it took the pressure off a little bit.
“I wanted to push, push, push for the gold but I felt the second run was a bit slower the snow was caving in a bit. I have had some ups and downs but it’s been amazing – to think I have come away with a medal, I cannot put it into words.
“I have been off social media which has been quite nice but as soon as I get home I am sure it will go a bit wild. My sisters will be on the phone to each other crying their eyes out; they have helped me so much through this. My mum and day will be so proud too.”
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