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A national lockdown in Austria followed by a long stretch of bad weather – amid a much longer stretch away from loved ones at a tense time – all conspired against Australia’s top Para-snowsport athletes as they prepared for the  Para-alpine skiing and Para-snowboard World Championships in Norway, starting on Thursday.

Yet, with the Beijing Winter Paralympics less than 50 days away, three-time Paralympian Mitchell Gourley indicated his fellow squad members were doing everything they could to produce their best performances.

By the time the Paralympics is over, the squad will have been traveling together for five months. This is difficult at the best of times, but more so in the current climate.

“It’s been stressful, especially with all the travel,” Gourley said of the challenges of Covid.

“It’s not going away, that’s for sure. From what we can tell from family and friends back home, it’s not going away any time soon there either.

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“We’re just pushing on, always wearing a mask and washing our hands and being tested pretty much everyday. It does create extra stress and uncertainty but the team and management are doing an incredible job managing it all.”

It is anticipated the nation will be represented by 10 competitors across alpine skiing and snowboarding. Leaving Australia for the northern winter was hoped to bring a clear stretch of practice for squad members. But it wasn’t so straight forward. 

“There was a national lockdown in Austria early on when we were there but thankfully we were still able to train,” Gourley said.

“It was pretty uncertain for a while and we were about to jump in cars and travel to Italy at one point. Then there was some bad weather and I think it’s shown in our results since, as people in the team have tested their gear and found their feet.

“Thankfully we’ve had some great conditions here in Norway over the past few days and I think people are starting to hit their straps a bit more in terms of the World Championships. It’s an important building block for Beijing, a nice dress rehearsal with almost the same schedule. It’s become a multi-sport event due to it being postponed last year, so it’s also similar to a Games environment in that way as well.

“After this we’ve got a nice training block when we can reflect on what happens here and put in place the final pieces for Beijing.”

Gourley said rising star, skier Josh Hanlon, was “hitting targets” and performing at a high level, dual PyeongChang 2018 bronze medallist Melissa Perrine and her sighted guide Bobbi Kelly were back on track after some injury concerns and sit-skier Sam Tait was excelling despite a recent crash.

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Squad members and staff did get a reprieve late last month when relaxed travel restrictions in Australia allowed travel to Europe.

“We went to Prague together over Christmas and tried to stay safe there,” Gourley said.

“Some of us had our partners and family members come over, so it was really nice to have a sort of big family Christmas. It was an unexpected boost for us. Things have been progressively impactful since we got over here so it was important to have that bit of time out and see some of our loved ones. Every little bit helps.”

Paralympics Australia will feature a live stream of the World Championships on our Facebook page, courtesy of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). Fans can also access a live stream on the IPC YouTube channel.

By: David Sygall, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 13 January 2022