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The Australian Paralympic Team’s two most experienced athletes, Mitchell Gourley and Melissa Perrine, who have competed alongside each other at the highest level for more than a decade, will carry the flag into the National Stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Games on Friday.

The announcement was made at the Team’s headquarters at the Paralympic Village at Yanqing, where most of the team will compete in the Para-alpine skiing events, starting on Saturday.

“Mel and Mitch are almost an institution in this team. The longevity they’ve had in their careers is amazing. Both started in Vancouver in 2010,” Chef de Mission Kate McLoughlin said.

“Mitch is incredibly well respected within the international snow sports community in the Para space. He’s a representative on the Athlete Commission for World Para-Alpine Skiing, he’s on the Paralympics Australia Athlete Commission, he’s got that leadership quality and you could just sense when you came into the Village that there’s this great respect for Mitch.

“Mel’s an inspiration to the other athletes, not just because of the way she goes about her skiing but also the way she’s been able to balance her life with international skiing. She’s got a number of degrees and travels the world competing. For a young athlete, to see how they can mix elite sport and also have a path for when they’ve retired, it’s pretty impressive and something I know they all look up to.”

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Whereas in Japan the team was represented at the Opening Ceremony by the two Summer Team Captains and McLoughlin as Chef de Mission, everyone in the Australian Winter Team was offered the opportunity to march at the Beijing 2022 Opening Ceremony.

Those competing in the downhill events the following day – Sam Tait, Patrick Jensen and Amelia Hodgson – won’t march, as well as Para-snowboarder Ben Tudhope, who is staying at the Paralympic Village at Zhangjiakou. Gourley will back up to compete in the downhill on Saturday after, he said, he enjoyed the training runs so much.

“I’m never going to get the opportunity again to ski 130 kilometres an hour down a hill with the whole thing closed and perfect safety netting from top to bottom,” he said. “I might as well take that chance. It’ll be a bit of a shorter sleep, that’s all.”

Gourley became emotional recounting the extraordinary journey he had been on as an international competitor.

“Mel and I have spent the best part of 15 years travelling together. I was still in high school when I met Mel, that’s how long we’ve been doing this together. It’s special to share the last ‘everything’ with her. We’ve both been pretty up front that this is it for us.

“I was really lucky to have incredible role models and leaders on this team growing up. I was just a child when I started. It means a lot to me to carry on that level of performance. That’s what we’re here to do.”

On being named a flagbearer, he said: “It’s really special. You don’t set out with the goal to be a flagbearer, you set out to be the fastest skier you can be. That’s always been my goal and been Mel’s goal too – to lead by example and push the envelope in terms of what we can do, how professional we can be and how far we can push the sport.

“These kinds of things are lovely when they happen and I think the enormity of it will probably hit on the day. I think the enormity of these whole Games and wrapping up such a big period of my life is all kind of hitting me at the moment.”

Posted: 3 March 2022