Menna Fitzpatrick of Great Britain and guide Gary Smith. Pic: Getty Images.

Wales’ Menna Fitzpatrick Becomes Britain’s Leading Winter Paralympian . . . And Pays Tribute To New Guide Gary Smith

By Will Jennings

Menna Fitzpatrick hailed an immediate alpine connection with new guide Gary Smith as the key to becoming the most decorated British Winter Paralympian of all-time.

Welsh skier Fitzpatrick, 23, won her fifth Paralympic medal in Beijing on Sunday by soaring to a scintillating Super-G silver.

The visually impaired athlete claimed four podium places at PyeongChang 2018 – including slalom gold – and now sits above fellow alpine skier Jade Etherington, who won three silvers and a bronze at Sochi 2014, on the all-time British list.

Fitzpatrick’s preparations for Beijing were thrown into disarray on the eve of the Games when usual guide Katie Guest tested positive for coronavirus.

That catapulted Smith into the equation, but Fitzpatrick says a long-term relationship with the 37-year-old proved the perfect platform for more Paralympic success.

She said: “I’ve known Gary since he started as a guide in 2016. Since then, we’ve always got on really well and he’s a great guide.

“I knew that he would stay nice and calm, do the comms for me and it’s worked really well.

 

“We stay as tight as possible and use that connection we’ve built up over the years. I am so happy to be the most decorated ParalympicsGB Winter athlete – it’s absolutely amazing.

“Every medal is up there and special in its own right, so to win a medal after the last four years and being able to stand up on that podium means everything.

“We left ourselves a bit of work to do in the slalom. The plan of going out there and putting down a pretty decent run paid off, so we are super, super happy.

“The confidence is really, really high – it was quite a tricky slalom set with tight turns and lots of combinations. It was tough but really good fun.”

Smith, who guided Sochi 2014 gold medallist Kelly Gallagher to fifth-place at PyeongChang 2018, added: “Menna is my shadow. Wherever I walk, I turn around and Menna is there and we’ve had an eight great days training.

“I couldn’t believe it – I was pretty emotional at the end there – I know how hard she’s worked and hard work does pay off.”

Fitzpatrick finished fifth in Saturday’s downhill event – her weakest discipline – but clambered onto the podium just 24 hours later with a searing run in Yanqing.

 

She capitalised on ten-time Paralympic champion Henrietta Farkasova’s fall to finish 1.78s behind gold medallist Alexandra Rexova and ahead of compatriot Millie Knight, who could only muster fourth.

Fitzpatrick revels in her role as a technical skiing specialist and will now turn her attention to the Super Combined, slalom – where she is defending champion – and giant slalom events this week.

Born with congenital retinal folds, Fitzpatrick has no vision in her left eye and limited sight in her right.

That did not stop her going on family ski holidays from the age of five, skiing behind her father and falling in love with the sport.

In October 2010 she was spotted by a coach at the Chill Factore indoor snow dome in Manchester and began training regularly with the British Para Snowsport team.

“I just spoke to my family back home in the UK – as soon as I got on the phone call they were super, super happy and so proud of what we did today,” added Fitzpatrick.

“We went out to ski well, so to come out with a silver medal and a pretty amazing title as well means we are all delighted.”

 

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