Visually impaired skier Millie Knight puts crashes and concussions in the rearview mirror to win Paralympic bronze

British para-alpine skier Millie Knight entered her third Paralympic Games expecting to win a single medal despite capturing three medals in 2018 and arriving in Beijing as the World Cup Super-G titleholder.

But she proved her wrong on Saturday, teaming up with a guide wild brett to win Britain’s first medal of the Games with a bronze medal in the women’s downhill for the visually impaired at Yanqing National Alpine Centre. Slovakia Henrieta Farkasova won her third consecutive gold medal in this event with a time of 1:19.50, while the Chinese Zhu Daqing won the silver medal with a time of 1:21.75 in her Paralympic debut.

“I still can’t believe it! We sincerely thought that we would not win any medals at these Games… what a crazy moment it is! Knight wrote in an Instagram post on Saturday, alluding to the struggles and injuries that have affected not only his body but also his psyche since the last Paralympic Games.

“This bronze medal is something very special,” Knight told the media after the race. “He ranks above our money four years ago in PyeongChang. We have been through tough times and it has changed us. »

Knight, 23, has suffered multiple concussions over the past five years, starting with back-to-back falls in the finish area at the 2017 World Championships and four weeks later during a World Cup downhill in PyeongChang. Both times she crossed the finish line at full speed, hitting the barriers. But her crash in South Korea was the most serious, flipping her three times and dislocating her jaw.

Although she won two silver medals (downhill, super-G) and a bronze (slalom) at the 2018 Paralympics, she admitted injuries affected her performance there. She took a break from competition during the 2018-19 season and says she considered walking away all together, but returned to action the following season.

“The concussions were horrible,” she recalls. “I would much rather lose my sight than suffer a concussion again. The recovery was so slow and so painful, and it shook my confidence so much, and I was so scared that I would never be able to hold on to the start again.

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In February 2021, Knight crashed again at a World Cup in Austria, suffering a concussion and dislocating her jaw, but she was skiing again five months later. She attributes particular attention to her mental training over the past few years, where she has worked closely with Team GB’s sports psychologist. Kelley Fay.

“At first I was just thinking, ‘Find the seconds, do whatever you can to go faster, no matter how scared you are, keep going,'” said Knight, who became Britain’s youngest athlete to compete. at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games when she was just 15 years old.

“Crossing the line with a smile was our #1 goal. We really didn’t think we were at the level that would allow us to get a medal. And now here we are, bronze medalists.

The medal was equally emotional for Wild, a former Scottish ski racer who works full-time as a submariner for the Royal Navy. He was released from service in recent years to guide Knight.

“It’s been so much time on the snow, working to build that trust in that relationship,” Wild said. “We know each other inside and out on the snow. I can tell over breakfast how Millie feels – whether it’s going to be a good day or a bad day by the way she breathes into the mic when we ski. As a team we work so well together and I’m incredibly proud of that today because I know how scary it was for Millie.

For Farkasova, winning gold – her 10th Paralympic Games gold and 13th medal overall – also marked a triumph over her own recent hurdles, which included a change of guide just a month before Beijing.

“My guide got injured a month ago at the world championships and I needed to find a new guide,” she told the media after the race. “Martin (Motyka) is very good and I am happy to be able to race with him.

The 35-year-old Slovakian runner has also battled her own health issues in recent years after undergoing three surgeries since injuring her knee at the 2019 World Championships.

“It was very hard for me, very painful,” she said. “But now I’m back. I’m first and it feels good. I’m happy.”

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