"Sometimes people smile at you to be nice, but there are no actual changes. You must fight as a person with a disability to gain your place as an active citizen. Through sports you can show what you can do and that you can be part of society just like any other.”
Twenty-five years ago today, the Paralympic flame was last lit in Norway.
On 10 March 1994, the sixth Winter Games kicked off in Lillehammer with 471 athletes from 31 countries competing across five sports: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, ice hockey and ice sledge racing.
Nordic skier and ice speed skater Ragnhild Myklebust was the standout athlete, taking five golds, two silvers and two bronze to help the hosts finish atop of the medals table.
“I remember how cold it was, but it was really nice and all competitions were great,” the most decorated Winter Paralympian said.
Lillehammer was elected host city in 1988 after beating Ostersund, Sweden, in the final round of the vote held at the 94th International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session. “I was following that on TV and when they announced the winner I screamed ‘YES!’”.
From all events she took part in, Myklebust feels the women’s 3x2.5 km relay open was special. “I skied really fast. Just after starting, I was astonished to see that all competitors were far behind. We won and I was faster even than the standing skiers!
“There was no time to celebrate, though, because I had to compete every day. So I went to bed early.”
Myklebust had little time for spare-time activities during the Games as she was fully focused on performing well. “It was nice having home support from your family, but I was busy with my races and did not want to get distracted by anything else.”
She added the Games were “good for Para athletes as they had the chance to compete internationally” and highlights how much more coverage the Paralympics are getting now, “especially on the Internet.”
Making history again
In 2021, Lillehammer will again be in the spotlight as it stages the first joint World Para Snow Sports Championships in Para alpine skiing, Para Nordic skiing and Para snowboard.
“Hopefully it will be important for Para athletes to develop themselves and for people with disabilities in general who may feel inspired by what they see,” said Myklebust.
“It is not just about competition but about a way of living. There need to be changes in society. Sometimes people smile at you to be nice, but there are no actual changes. You must fight as a person with a disability to gain your place as an active citizen.
“Through sports you can show what you can do and that you can be part of society just like any other.”