Being announced as ParalympicsGB Chef de Mission for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in 2020 was a huge honour and the opportunity to work more closely with the brilliant athletes and staff at GB Snowsport is something that I can’t wait for. As Head of Sport at the BPA I already work closely with each National Governing Body across many areas of Games planning but for me to have the chance to lead the team is a dream come true.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend five Paralympic Games in my career with the BPA and some of my fondest memories come from the Winter Games in Sochi and PyeongChang. Sochi was ground-breaking in so many ways with Jade Etherington and Caroline Powell becoming our most decorated Winter Paralympians, Kelly Gallagher and Charlotte Evans winning Great Britain’s first ever gold medal on snow and the hours of coverage on Channel 4. The ParalympicsGB team continued to be front page news in PyeongChang with record breaking performances from Menna Fitzpatrick and Jen Kehoe (including that incredible gold medal on the final morning of the Games), Scott Meenagh becoming our first Nordic Skiing athlete for 20 years and the selection of our first ever Snowboard athletes.
From a personal perspective, being one of the first people to speak to Kelly and Charlotte at the bottom of the slope after their gold medal run and getting the village cleaners to join in the celebrations in our apartment after Menna and Jen’s victory are moments that will stay with me forever. It is memories such as those along with the prospect of working with the exciting group of athletes we have aiming for selection in 2022 that makes me so excited to be Chef for the team in Beijing and I am determined to ensure that we continue to build on the momentum from the last two Games and help to make Great Britain a force to be reckoned with in Winter Para sport. We will take a team to Beijing that has extraordinary potential and I can’t wait to see what can be achieved by this group of athletes.
Beijing promises to be another magnificent Games – potentially the biggest ever in terms of athlete numbers – with more slots available than ever before for female athletes and gender parity in the number of medals available. The Games will be held across three competition zones with GB Snowsport athletes competing in Yanqing (Alpine Skiing) and Zhangjiakou (Nordic Skiing and Snowboarding). As Chef de Mission it’s my job (along with my brilliant team) to ensure that we create environments across all three villages that allow athletes and staff to thrive and produce personal best performances. We will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that we work with GB Snowsport staff and athletes over the next 365 days to make this the best prepared ParalympicsGB team ever to attend a Winter Games.
The current unique situation we all face with Covid-19 and the postponement of the Summer Games in Tokyo means that we will need to work harder than ever to ensure that we are ready for Beijing but we have spent the last six months at the BPA planning how we will deliver two Games within six months and that work will continue as we understand what Beijing will look like and any specific plans we need to put in place.
I know that representing ParalympicsGB is a burning ambition for all the GB Snowsport athletes, whether pulling on the tracksuit for the first time or if you’ve been to multiple Games and I look forward to being part of the athletes journey as we head towards Beijing 2022.
We caught up with GB Snowsport Para Alpine Performance Coach Jo Ryding following the announcement of her inclusion in UK Sport’s first female coaches leadership programme.
How did you get into skiing?
I first started skiing at the local dry ski slope where my Father coached myself and my brother.
What is your experience of being a female coach in Snowsport, do you think this experience could be improved at all?
When I first started coaching, I was one of a handful of females that had chosen to go down the coaching route, from the highest level down to grass route I can probably name 5 or 6 that were coaching. Coaching within Alpine is a physically demanding job with a lot of time spent abroad away from friends and family and the perceived impression at the time was that a female couldn’t do as good a job as a male could. Things have changed within the British system, but it’s still quite evident there is a lack of Females on the international circuit.
Why do you think it is important to continue to recruit more female sports coaches?
I feel that having a coach that understands and can relate to the same pressures that female athletes face can support the athlete and enhance their performance within their sport.
What is the Female Coaches Leadership Programme and how will it work?
The programme is designed to help more Females coaches make the transition into higher coaching roles within sport. Offering opportunities to shadow ‘master’ coaches working in World Class Performance Environments.
What are the main targets for the programme?
The main aim of the programme is to significantly increase the number of female coaches by improving access and experience within the high performance coaching environment. Their goal is to double the number of accredited female coaches at the next Olympic Games.
This is the first leadership programme UK Sport have launched. Do you think we will be seeing more opportunities like this in the future?
It would be brilliant to see the programme continued and more opportunities for female coaches coming through in the future. With the increase of female coaches in those positions I would hope they will become role models for other Female coaches aspiring to progress their careers.
Lastly, tell us how the GB Snowsport Para Alpine team are getting on at the moment?
The GB Para Alpine Athletes have been training well considering the current climate we find ourselves in. The athletes worked hard on their conditioning during the first lockdown and the period shortly after. Since being able to return to snow the athletes have utilised the increase in form to enable them to make some excellent progress technically. There’s been an increase in participation numbers over the past couple of years which in turn has increased the performance standard of the international field. We have some exciting times on the horizon and the athletes are rising to the challenge.
By Menna Fitzpatrick, Britain’s Most Decorated Winter Paralympian
I was born with congenital retinal folds, meaning that I have no vision in my left eye and very limited sight in my right eye, but my family went on ski holidays from when I was 5 years old, so I was lucky enough to learn from a young age. My dad was my guide and it was a great way to learn with him leading the way.
I fell in love with downhill skiing from a very young age. I love the feeling I get when I ski. It’s a mix of adrenaline, speed, the wind in my hair. It is pure enjoyment and I can’t explain the happiness that I feel. The relief of crossing the finish line at the end of the race never gets old, especially after going down the mountain at 100km/h.
It is difficult to explain how it feels to be a blind skier, but have you ever been skiing in low cloud with a blizzard swirling around you?
At best, finding your way is pretty difficult; at worst, it’s so disorientating that your senses play tricks on you – you can’t tell if you’re still moving and distant sounds can seem very close. And if you can imagine that, you have some idea of what it’s like to ski as a visually impaired (VI) skier.
Sound terrifying? It is.
My guide and I use a specific set of commands to communicate, and my guide is responsible for communicating the direction of travel, changes in terrain, light and snow conditions and the rhythm of the course. Plus, my guide has to set the correct pace to enable me to ski as fast as I can and give me instructions to speed up, slow down or keep at the same speed. It isn’t overstating things to say that the VI athlete’s life is in the hands of their guide.
Prior to a big event, I do have a routine that I like to do. I usually run through the course with my guide several times before our run then we warm up and during this time we tend to try and relax. I will admit that this is usually by singing Disney songs!! Then we refocus and start clicking into our skis and all my attention moves to the task at hand.
Sometimes I get asked what I would say to someone who wanted to get into my discipline. It is easy – do it, it is an absolutely amazing feeling of freedom and excitement at the same time. I would also say that there are a few important attributes to have as a skier. I have learnt a lot since I started competing from a young age, but resilience is the key physical attribute for me. Another attribute is the ability to be afraid and accept that and put it to one side and concentrate on the skiing. We go so fast down the mountain, so I have to be able to trust my guide. I think first learning how to ski with my dad as my guide has really helped me develop this trust from a much younger age. As I said before, ultimately, I am putting my life in my guides hands, so trust is so important.
So yes, it’s terrifying, and the stakes are high, but so are the potential rewards – like when we won gold at the 2018 Paralympics in PyeongChang. The exhilaration, the sheer thrill of travelling downhill at speed, the medals – are worth it. Well, I think so, anyway!
By Millie Knight, Three Time Paralympic Medallist
At the age of 15 I competed at my first Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia. At these Games, I was fortunate enough to carry the British flag at the opening ceremony, which was awesome and definitely a career highlight! At the age of 19 I competed at my second Paralympics, in PyeongChang, South Korea. These two pictures are probably my favourite because they represent so much. Lots of things change over time but it’s important to appreciate those that are always there, through the good times and the bad.
One of the things that am I most grateful for and dependent upon in my skiing career, is of course, my guide Brett. As a visually Impaired skier, the relationship between you and your guide is a special one, that requires a strong bond and copious amounts of trust! I started skiing with Brett in 2016 and since then, we have gone from strength to strength, with a few tough days thrown in too!. I am so lucky to have, not only a brilliant skier in front of me but a great friend too.
In 2017 Brett and I became GB’s first ever Snowsports World Champions, this was bittersweet. After crossing the finish line of the Downhill, I failed to stop and collided with the crash barriers. I was a bit shaken up but able to continue racing, coming away with 3 Silvers and a Gold. 3 weeks later, we flew out to the Paralympic test event in South Korea and I did the same thing, I failed to stop after the finish line. This time, I wasn’t so lucky and ended up being ambulanced to hospital having landed on my head. The recovery from this concussion took a VERY long time and affected me in so many ways: not only physically but psychologically too. I never thought I would recover fully, never mind trying to win medals at the Paralympics.
The 2018 Winter Paralympics was an exceptional time for me and Brett. We went into the Games with very low expectations, knowing we weren’t performing at our best and still battling with the repercussions of concussion. Adding to the stress and pressure was the psychological challenge of knowing that the last time I skied on that race hill, I ended up in hospital. Coming through the finish line on the first day of the Games was remarkable, not only because I stopped on my feet, but we won a Silver in the Downhill – there really are no words to describe that achievement.
Our successes are not just down to me and Brett, the team behind us are the main reason we win medals. We are now in the strongest and most positive place that we have ever been, this is down to our incredible support network of; coaches, assistant coaches, ski technicians, sport psychologists, strength and conditioning coaches and of course our friends and family. Knowing our coaches have faith in us, and our abilities is a real driving force for our motivation.
We are currently working hard towards the World Championships in 2021 and the Paralympics in 2022.