BRITAIN yesterday won its first ever gold medal on snow, following Kelly Gallagher’s victory in the Super-G at the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games.
Describing her joy at winning the super giant slalom event, the 28-year-old visually impaired skier said: “It was nerve-wracking, but I’m delighted with the result.”
The historic win at a packed and noisy Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre marked a remarkable turnaround for Gallagher and her guide Charlotte Evans, coming just two days after the pair finished last in the downhill event – a result Gallagher admitted had shattered her confidence and destroyed her faith in their ability.
“I lost all of my faith in myself, in Charlotte, in our processes, in what we were doing and I was like, ‘I only have a couple of hours to put this together, because we’re going to be back on snow and we’ve got to race’,” said Gallagher who first took up skiing when she was 17.
The pair, who celebrated with their families in the stand after their triumph, communicate on their way down the slopes via Bluetooth headsets as they travel at speeds of up to 100km/h.
Gallagher, a maths graduate from Bangor, Co Down, said the sudden surge in interest and expectation had spurred her and Evans on to take gold. “Normally, when we compete – even in big events like world championships – there is nobody interested in what we are doing. But here there has been a lot of hype and pressure, as well as expectation, and maybe we let some of that in, so today we just decided to ski and see what happens. I have to thank Charlotte for getting me to the line. We just threw ourselves at it. I prayed for the strength to ski and have fun.”
Evans added: “I was yelling a lot and she wasn’t doing what I told her, but finally it paid off. It didn’t feel as good as we wanted to on the course, but who cares; we won a gold medal and it feels amazing.”
Gallagher and Evans were first on the course for the Super-G event, where they set a time of one minute, 28.72 seconds that could not be bettered by the rest of the field.
Super giant slalom, along with the downhill, is a racing speed discipline consisting of widely set gates that racers need to turn round. Gallagher, who has oculocutaneous albinism, which affects the pigment in her hair, skin and eyes, began working with Evans, from Kent, in late 2010, just months after finishing fourth in the giant slalom at the Vancouver games with previous guide Claire Robb. Since teaming up, they have won silver and bronze in the 2011 and 2013 world championships as well as world cup honours.
There was more good news for the British team as Jade Etherington and her guide Caroline Powell won bronze in the Super-G. It was their second medal of the games, coming after their silver in the downhill on Saturday.
Prime Minister David Cameron last night tweeted his congratulations to both pairs.
The success puts Britain, for the time being, ahead of the United States and Canada in the medal table.
The gold was also Britain’s first on snow at either the Winter Olympics or Paralympics, while the bronze and silver for Etherington and Powell means Britain, with three medals, have already exceeded their UK Sport target.
Britain has had athletes competing in every Winter Paralympics since the first event in 1976 in Sweden and the three medals won so far surpass the minimum target of two set by UK Sport ahead of the event.