Aussies exceed Winter Paralympic hopes

If day two was to be any indication, the PyeongChang Games were going to be a long Winter Paralympics for Australia.

After a medal-less opening day, the country’s alpine skiers failed to threaten the podium and the team’s prospects received a sledgehammer blow when co-captain and world No.2 snowboarder Joany Badenhorst was ruled out.

It seemed as though their gold medal drought stretching back to Salt Lake City in 2002, when far more medals were offered due to more disability classes in alpine skiing, was set to continue.

Enter Simon Patmore.

Patmore was an unknown quantity coming into the Games considering his inexperience in para-snowboarding.

While a proven performer on the world stage with a bronze in athletics at the London 2012 Paralympics, he had only taken up the sport in 2014.

But his triumph in the snowboard cross upper-limb category on day three lifted the monkey off the team’s back.

A day later, Melissa Perrine won her first medal in her third Games in super-combined and backed up the next day with a second bronze in giant slalom.

Patmore then won bronze in banked slalom and Australia had bettered its performances at Turin 2006 (one silver, one bronze), Vancouver 2010 (one silver, three bronze) and Sochi 2014 (two bronze), with pre-Games hopes of three medals exceeded.

The country has finished 15th on the medal table.

“(Patmore’s gold) was a landmark moment. Full stop,” Australian chef de mission Nick Dean said.

“It was like going to the movies. The previous day we were down in the depths of despair with Joany’s misfortune.

“Then by the evening, joy.”

Despite the success, there have been disappointments.

Perhaps the biggest was co-captain and world champion alpine skier Mitch Gourley’s failure to reach a maiden Paralympic podium at his third Games despite being in bronze medal position during two of his five events.

Badenhorst, who has starred on the World Cup stage in recent years, is yet to compete on the Paralympic snow after heavy crashes in training accidents at her last two campaigns.

And on the penultimate day of the Games, five of the six men’s skiing contingent failed to finish their first runs of the slalom.

“It was raining medals there for a time” Dean said.

“If you want to get greedy, it would have been lovely if Mitch had skied as well in his second runs.

“That would have been the icing on the cake. There’s no-one more deserving of a medal than Mitch Gourley.”

As in many Paralympic teams, there are athletes who have overcome major challenges just to be there.

Sean Pollard, who lost both hands in a shark attack, performed beyond his two years of experience to finish fifth in the banked slalom upper-limb class.

Shaun Pianta, who lost his vision after contracting a superbug in Bali, made his Games debut despite tearing his ACL three months ago.

Patmore, Perrine and Gourley have not ruled out continuing to 2022, and with five debutants in the team, the signs are good for Beijing.

PyeongChang has ended its time as hosts, with South Korea spending more than $13 billion on its successful Olympic and Paralympic Games.

It had welcomed 567 disabled athletes to the Paralympics to compete in 80 events as the United States finished on top of the medals table.

The Neutral Paralympic Athletes – Russians deemed clean and allowed to compete – finished second and Canada third.

The closing ceremony, which featured the extinguishing of the flame at the soon-to-be-demolished Olympic Stadium, paid tribute to renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, who died last week after a long battle with motor-neurone disease.

“At the London 2012 Paralympic opening ceremony, Hawking noted that we are all different and that there is no such thing as a standard or run of the mill human being,” International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons said.

“He urged us all to, ‘Look at the stars and not at our feet’. And, over the last 10 days, the stars have shone brightly here in PyeongChang.

“While Hawking tested the limits of his imagination, Paralympians, you have once again pushed the boundaries of human endeavour.”

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We've teamed up with Australian Associated Press to ensure you get both accurate and up to date reporting for the PyeongChang 2018 Games from the AAP team of top notch reporters, Olympic veteran sports and snow reporter Glenn Cullen and young gun Warren Barnsley and award winning photographer Dan Himbrechts.

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