Australia’s Winter Paralympians face the prospect of going two decades without a gold medal but they’re taking history with a grain of salt leading to PyeongChang.
A lot has changed in para-snow sports since Michael Milton won four gold medals and fellow alpine skier Bart Bunting and his sighted guide Nathan Chivers two at Salt Lake City in 2002.
There will be about 150 more athletes competing over the next nine days and athlete classes in alpine skiing were reduced from 14 to three (standing, sitting and vision-impaired) three Games ago, meaning fewer medals are on offer.
Chef de mission Nick Dean said athletes are conscious of the 16-year gold medal drought but was adamant ending it is not the be-all and end-all of these Games.
“It’s harder to win a medal now,” he said.
“My definition of success is maybe (an athlete) doing a PB on the day.
“But we never lose sight that these are elite athletes and they aim for the top. Someone who comes fourth is probably going to be distraught.
“I reckon we’ve got athletes in the top five in alpine skiing and snowboarding so I’d be happy with one, two, three medals and anything above that.”
Australia’s charge in South Korea is led by star para-snowboarder Joany Badenhorst and world champion standing alpine skier Mitch Gourley – the co-captains.
Skier Melissa Perrine and snowboarders Simon Patmore and Ben Tudhope are ranked in the top 10 in all of their disciplines.
Opening ceremony flagbearer Badenhorst is perhaps Australia’s brightest prospect having won 22 World Cup medals, including two gold last month, in the past four years.
The 23-year-old, ranked second for both banked slalom and para-snowboard cross, has developed a formula to help her cope with high expectations for PyeongChang.
“There is pressure but I’ve had a successful season because I’ve worked out my routine,” Badenhorst said.
“When it comes to the Paralympics, I’m not going to treat it as any other race. I’m not going to treat it as more important because my recipe so far has been a winner.
“If I stick with that, I won’t feel the pressure.”
Gourley, set for his third Paralympics and in pursuit of his first medal, believes Australia is primed for success.
“We’ve got a really strong team, both in snowboard and alpine,” he said.
“I think we’ve got three or four people on the team who are more than capable of winning a gold medal, but it just comes down to who is best on the day.
“The reality is it’s a lot tougher to win a gold medal now, but in saying that it’s a lot more rewarding.”