“It was the best feeling ever!” The response from fifteen-year-old skier Millie Knight carrying the flag for Great Britain at last night’s Paralympic Winter Games opening ceremony in Sochi.
Great Britain are fielding a total of 12 athletes; a team of five in wheelchair curling, and seven athletes in alpine skiing, all led by head coach Tony McAllister. The alpine skiing team consists of seven competitors, and in the visually impaired categories is Millie Knight, who will race with her sighted guide.
The youngest member of the ParalympicsGB team at the event, we were honoured to catch up with Knight – and McAllister – and find out about their thoughts and feelings as the eleventh Winter Paralympic Games approach. With the success of the Summer Paralympics and GB’s best winter Olympics performance ever, there is a lot to live up to.
“Both the 2012 Paralympics and 2014 Olympics were amazing. Seeing how the general public supported the British athletes was brilliant, so I feel positive about going into the Games knowing that the British public will be supporting us”, says Knight.
Training in Austria during the winter months, and at Hemel Snow Centre off season, Knight thinks the opportunity to compete in Sochi is the realisation of a dream she’s had since being young, and one that was inspired after meeting former British Winter Paralympian Sean Rose.
Head Coach Tony McAllister highlights the Super G event – or super giant slalom – as his favourite event. Why? “The Super-G is the purest form of Alpine ski racing, testing all the elements needed to succeed in this sport. Course Inspection Skills, visualisation, recall, ski preparation, technical prowess, tactical choices, channelling fear, jumps, and going FAST!” he says.
Outside of competitive skiing, Knight is also involved with Disability Snowsport UK (DSUK), an organisation which strives to make sure all those with a disability have the opportunity to ski or snowboard alongside other people.
“They [DSUK] have really helped and supported me along the way. It is great that they are there to help get disabled people out skiing.” McAllister reiterates the importance that DSUK play, commenting: “They do a good job in tough circumstances with limited resources. They strive to deliver the best opportunities to the BDST [British Disabled Ski Team] so that the athletes are best prepared for every competition that they compete in.”
According to Knight, skiing alongside other skiiers is never really an issue. “Most of the time other skiers don’t realise I’m visually impaired but when they do find out they often find it quite amazing.”
We don’t doubt it! Knight, who first tried skiing at the age of seven on a family holiday, joined the Great Britain development squad in November 2012 at the age of 13, and has been described as a very talented athlete. She will compete in the slalom and giant slalom events on 14 and 16 March respectively.
As the youngest ever athlete to represent ParalympicsGB at a Winter Games, Millie is sure to inspire the next generation of winter paralympians, and is a great choice to carry the flag for GB!