Mitchell Gourley set out at the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics to prove he was still one of the world’s best competitive skiers. When he signed off from his final race at Yanqing National Alpine Centre on the last day of his fourth Games, he could feel satisfied that he’d achieved his goal.
The scorecard after the second run of the Men’s Slalom Standing won’t show that the 30-year-old produced some of the best ski racing of his packed Games program. Nor will his overall harvest from five events at Beijing reflect his 16 years of service to Australian and world Para-alpine skiing. But, as he said afterwards, those who have been along for the ride – those who really understand – know that his outstanding career can be defined by much more than results at the Paralympic Games.
“It’s been a tough week, an emotional week,” Gourley said. “But the biggest thing for me was trying to prove to myself and make sure that I wasn’t here to make up the numbers, that I’m still competitive.
“I think I did that in sections of the GS [Giant Slalom] and sections of Slalom. I proved I’m still one of the best skiers in the world when I string it together.”
Gourley was placed 11th after the first run from a starting list of 46 entrants, nine of whom didn’t complete the run.
“I went out there with every intention of skiing fast and I’m not the only out there who had some trouble,” he said.
“I’m proud of some of the skiing in the first run this morning. I didn’t like the bottom pitch, I never want to see that again, but the skiing up the top was solid. Had I strung two runs together, you never know.”
Gourley said he was sure exactly what his professional life would look like after skiing but, similarly to his teammate, fellow retiree Melissa Perrine, it will be in and around sport.
“As far as Para-winter sport in Australia, I don’t know what it’ll look like but I’m willing and able and open to give as much as I can, just like Mel is, to this movement because we benefited from an incredible legacy when we joined the Paralympic winter team and we want that to continue,” he said.
At the other end of the spectrum, Paralympic debutant Josh Hanlon put an exclamation mark on his first Games, backing up his 11th placing in the Giant Slalom on Friday with an exceptional sixth place finish in the Slalom Sitting.
“It wasn’t a great first run but the second run was a bit better, I climbed the order a bit, a few DNFs and I was way up the order. Really happy,” he said.
Hanlon said the Games had been everything he’d hoped for and more.
“It’s been great fun. I’m really happy with a couple of the results, I really look forward to getting home, working hard and getting ready for the next one,” he said.
“I feel very fresh. This whole season everything’s felt so new. Every place we’ve been I’ve got more comfortable. The harder snow’s gotten easier, I’ve been able to rip a bit harder at training on the hard snow. Another couple of years and I’ll hopefully be up the top.
“Who knows where I can get to in the next couple of seasons, but I’ll definitely be up there well and truly by the next quad.”
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Patrick Jensen, along with sighted guide Amelia Hodgson, also finished his campaign strongly, recording eighth place in the Men’s Slalom Vision Impaired, adding to his eighth in the Downhill and sixth in the Super-G.
“It was a 10 out of 10,” Jensen said of his Beijing 2022 experience.
“I’ve had the most fun here and with such a great group of people, my team, Amelia and I have such a close bond, my teammates that I room with – it’s been such a fun time experiencing Beijing together.”
Jensen said he would definitely aim to compete at Cortina in 2026, likely as a B1 competitor, the classification for competitors with no sight.
“I’m not quite sure how much time I have left before my eyesight completely deteriorates,” he said.
“The sooner I get into it, the better. I really look forward to testing my limits in that category as I go forward in skiing.”
By: David Sygall, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 13 March 2022