Celebrations today not only in Bangor but throughout Northern Ireland as Kelly Gallagher and guide Charlotte Evans took Great Britain’s first ever Paralympics Gold medal – in Sochi yesterday.
Kelly and guide Charlotte secured the gold medal in the Super-G Slalom. They were first out on the course so had a nerve-racking wait for the rest of the event to see if their time had been matched by other competitors.
Kelly is supported by Sport Northern Ireland and she also works closely with Sports Institute of Northern Ireland (SINI) where she has received support for the last five years. Kelly bases herself at SINI for part of the year and works with various SINI practitioners including Strength and Conditioning, Sports Medicine, Physiology and the Planning unit. When Kelly is competing or at training events SINI physiotherapists and Performance Skills coach will often travel with her to support her.
Throughout the course of the weekend the girls have kept in touch with Sports Institute Northern Ireland Performance Skills Coach Kelley Fay who has worked closely with them since their partnership began in late 2010 and continues to provide support during the Games. This win demonstrates the resolve and determination of the two athletes which has seen them win World Cup and World Championship honours over the last few years, culminating in yesterday’s medal win. They compete again today in the Super Combined, on Friday (14th March) in the Slalom and on Sunday (16th March) in the Giant Slalom.
Chief Executive of Sport Northern Ireland Antoinette McKeown warmly welcomed the news of Kelly’s gold medal achievement saying;“We are all absolutely delighted for Kelly. She has worked extremely hard over the last five years with the team at SINI and this gold medal is a fantastic achievement for Kelly and the wider team. Kelly’s passion for her sport and dedication as an athlete has seen a number of successes recently and we are all behind her, particularly for her remaining events at Sochi.”
Speaking later to ‘BBC Sport”, the Co Down woman said : ”Normally when we compete, even in big events like World Championships, there is nobody interested in what we are doing,”
“But here there has been a lot of hype and pressure, as well as expectation, and maybe we let some of that in. (They had finished last in their first event at the weekend).
“Today we just decided to ski and see what happens.
“I have to thank Charlotte for getting me to the line. We just threw ourselves at it. I prayed for the strength to ski and have fun.”
Evans added: “I was yelling a lot and she wasn’t doing what I told her, but finally it paid off. It didn’t feel as good as we wanted to on the course, but who cares.
“We won a gold medal and it feels amazing.”
The new Gold medallists though came close to splitting up but two years ago following a series of misfortunes which beset the 28 years old Gallagher.
A shattered jaw then news that her Father was suffering from Cancer and ‘ups and downs’ in the couples relationship.
“I was helicoptered off a mountain, then learning my dad had cancer was so difficult for me,” Gallagher said.
“On top of that, we almost needed marriage counselling because we were tearing each other apart.
“We had to change parts of our personalities and really work as a team together to be able produce something as special as we have.”
Evans, 22, was an able-bodied racer herself before a knee-injury ended her hopes of an elite solo career.
She admitted to finding the transition difficult and that she can be extremely intense when competing, revealing she lost part of a tooth by screaming so loudly at Gallagher during their gold medal-winning run.
“We’ve been working with psychologists for the last two years and now understand each other’s roles better,” Evans told BBC Sport.
“I think now that’s why it’s working. We never had that mutual respect for one another and both wanted to be in control.”
She revealed there have been times when they have wondered if they were “doing the right thing” staying in the sport, but added: “Now it’s all been worth it and we have a gold medal.”