Brits win Paralympics gold
The final day of the 2018 South Korean Games ended on a high for team GB who claimed their seventh medal of the tournament. Menna Fitzpatrick became Britain’s Paralympic hero with four medals in Pyeongchang, making her Britain’s most decorated Winter Paralympian ever.
Even before the final day, Menna Fitzpatrick and Jen Kehoe were already enjoying a Paralympics that was beyond perhaps even their wildest expectations. The pair had secured two silvers in the super combined and giant slalom which was complimented with a bronze in the super-G event, so maybe it was that nothing to lose attitude that saw them claim gold in the vision impaired category of the women’s slalom.
The biggest surprise was the pair managed to beat Slovakia’s Henrieta Farkasova. Farkasova looked invincible in Pyeongchang, having won four golds in her previous four races and few would have betted against a fifth.
But followers of Fitzpatrick’s fledgling career won’t be at all surprised. In 2014 Menna and Jen became the first British winners of the overall World Cup Visually Impaired title at the International Paralympic Committee’s World Cup and two years later she was awarded the Ski Club of Great Britain’s annual Evie Pinching award, which recognises the best of the up and coming winter sport athletes.
Many of us would baulk at the idea of skiing down a mountain in excess of 65 miles per hour, but imagine doing that with hardly any ability of sight. This is exactly what 19-year-old Welsh skier Menna Fitzpatrick does each and every time she skies. Menna has just 5% vision and relies on the faint orange glow of guide Jen Kehoe’s vest to help her negotiate the slopes at high speed.
Great Britain’s Millie Knight added the icing on the cake by securing bronze in the same event, giving team GB a tally of one gold, four silver and two bronze medals.
The pressure on UK’s athletes to deliver
Fitzpatrick’s haul of four medals in Pyeongchang incredibly made up over half of the UK’s total medal count at the Paralympics. The pressure on athletes is intense, not only just to personally perform well, but modern athletes also have the added pressure of knowing their results will directly affect the amount of money that will be invested for future generations of participants in the sport.
Heading into the last day of action in Pyeongchang, it looked like the British team would fall agonisingly short in their quest to claim the seven-medal target as set by UK Sport, the agency responsible for athletic funding.
It has been publicised quite widely how failure to reach targets set by UK Sport directly affects funding. Examples of this are GB Badminton, who lost all of its £5.7m funding. Fencing also saw its entire £4.2m kitty disappear. Disappointing competition results also saw archery funding completely cut, missing out on £2.9m.
The seemingly harsh monetary penalties for perceived underachievement are not just restricted to able-bodied athletes. Wheelchair rugby saw £3m in resources disappear after not meeting performance related funding criteria. This has led to the team resorting to crowd funding to be able to compete at Tokyo 2020, so it will be a relief to the winter Paralympians that the target was met.
The PyeongChang games are likely to be remembered as a huge success both sporting wise and politically. Few would have predicted that the games could have produced an opportunity for America and North Korea to begin tentative talks in the hope of ending hostilities.
And from a sporting point of view there have been many highlights in both the Olympics and the Paralympics tournaments, especially from a UK point of view.
A 19-year-old winning 4 medals in her first Paralympic games shows the quality the UK has coming through and the hope and inspiration that Fitzpatrick will have given to the estimated 360,000 people who are registered as blind or partially sighted in the UK is possibly immeasurable in monetary terms.