Sweden’s Helene Ripa has packed a lot of memorable moments into her relatively short cross-country skiing career.
However it is her gold in the women’s long distance cross-country classic standing on her Paralympic debut at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games that stands out.
However it took her a little while to realise she had actually won it.
“I was so happy just celebrating that I had won a silver medal, not knowing if I had made a sufficiently strong finish,” Ripa, who began skiing in 2012, said. “But the moment when I got the thumbs up from one of the coaches is a moment that I will never ever forget. My whole body exploded with joy and happiness and I just screamed as loud as I could.”
In the end Ripa beat Ukraine’s Iuliia Batenkova by just under four seconds. She still has vivid memories of the race and the tactics she used to help her to victory.
“I remember how calm I was before the start and I said to myself just do your own race,” Ripa said. “It was five laps on a 3km course and I got really tired on the third lap and told myself to hold back a little bit and allow myself to recover in the easier parts of the track. It was enough to get my strength back.”
“When I was on the fourth lap the coaches started screaming that I was picking up time on Batenkova. I grew by that information and on the last lap I really gave all that I had. I was completely exhausted after crossing the finish line. I didn’t know if I had made it or not.”
In fact at one point earlier in the season Ripa was not even sure if she would make it to the Paralympics let alone compete for a gold medal.
“I didn’t have a great start that season and missed the first World Cup in Canada due to a bad cold,” she said. “I got sick again after the first one and at my first race in Germany I performed really badly and in Finland as well. I didn’t have a good start.
“However at the same time as the snow came to Sweden in January my physical shape and my mental strength grew. I felt stronger and more confident and when I came to Sochi I felt as if I had come home. I was right where I wanted to be – both physically and mentally.
“My goal for that season was to make it to the Paralympics and then when I had achieved that I changed my goal to take the gold medal. I believed so hard in myself that I thought if I just did my race it could take me all the way.”
Ripa is amongst a series of Paralympic champions currently at the half-way point between the next Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018.
This season a series of IPC Biathlon and Cross-Country Skiing World Cups are taking place, with the next edition in Finsterau, Germany, between 24-28 February.