It has been five years since Great Britain’s Millie Knight and her guide Brett Wild have stood on top of the podium at a World Championships. In that time, Knight has struggled with a serious concussion and back injury, took time off from the sport and had plenty of doubts about whether to continue competing.
But in Monday’s super combined race at the Lillehammer 2021 World Para Snow Sports Championships all those doubts were silenced as Knight crossed the finish line first and raised her arms in sheer jubilation.
“With all the injuries and rehab, actually both Brett and I have done together, it’s been really tough, really tough both physically and mentally,” Knight said. “We genuinely never thought we’d be back here and to win a gold in super combi, it’s amazing.”
Knight’s victory in the women’s vision impaired super combined is her second world title and second world championships medal in the event. She won downhill at the 2017 Worlds where she also placed second in the super combined.
Despite this successful run at the 2017 Worlds, it was also the year when things started to go wrong for the British skier.
A crash resulted in a concussion and while Knight still went on to compete at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games and win three medals there, the experience was a painful one.
Five years after that crash, at Lillehammer 2021, Knight put herself more than four seconds in the lead with a blazing super-G run. Her teammate Menna Fitzpatrick shrunk that lead during the slalom run, but Knight still pushed on to take the gold by a nerve-wracking 0.52 seconds.
The gold medal is an addition to the bronze Knight won in the super-G on Saturday.
“It’s phenomenal,” Wild said. “I didn’t expect to be back here. We’ve had such a tough four years since 2017 so to come back with a gold medal, it’s unbelievable. I was chuffed with the bronze two days ago. To go from here with gold, it just shows Millie’s resilience. I’m super proud.”
The Republic of Korea’s Choi Sara finished third.
WAVING THE FLAG
The wait for a World Championships medal was also a long one for Italy’s Rene de Silvestro. The Italian sit skier managed to finally break onto the podium at his third World Championships. First with a bronze in the super-G and finally with a gold medal on Monday.
De Silvestro has emerged as Italy’s best medal hope at Lillehammer 2021 in the absence of his star teammate, Paralympic and world champion in the men’s vision impaired class Giacomo Bertagnolli, who missed the speed races due to a COVID infection.
The sit skier delivered on those expectations in the super combined, making two smooth runs to surpass the downhill champion Jesper Pedersen by a mere 0.18 seconds.
“I have no words because to beat Jesper here at home, it’s very, very wonderful. I’m so happy,” de Silvestro said. “I like the slope because the snow is perfect. [It is] hard, icy, that’s what I like, and I thought that I could win.”
The defending world champion in the event, Jeroen Kampschreur, crashed on a turn in the super-G run, even losing his ski from the impact. The Dutch team was not left without a medal, however, as Kampschreur’s teammate Niels de Langen claimed the bronze.
It was also the first major medal for de Silvestro’s teammate, Federico Pelizzari, who took a bronze in the men’s standing race.
France’s Arthur Bauchet defended his title in the men’s standing super combined after two frustrating speed races in which he failed to win gold despite being the heavy medal favourite.
The silver went to the 2018 Paralympic champion in the event, RPC’s Aleksei Bugaev, who has taken a medal in each of the men’s standing races so far.
Meanwhile, Bugaev’s teammate Varvara Voronchikhina won gold in the women’s standing class to follow on her gold in the super-G. The young skier led both runs and finished 0.96 seconds ahead of defending champion Marie Bochet of France.
Germany’s Anna-Maria Rieder moved up to third place thanks to a solid slalom performance.
HAT TRICK FOR FORSTER AND DELEPLACE
In addition to Bauchet’s victory in the men’s standing race, France also struck gold in the men’s vision impaired class as Hyacinthe Deleplace made it three out of three at Lillehammer 2021.
Great Britain’s Neil Simpson and Slovakia’s Miroslav Haraus took the silver and bronze, respectively, as medal contender Johannes Aigner of Austria dropped out in the slalom run after straddling a gate.
While Deleplace has been undefeated so far, it will be harder for him to retain that winning streak with Bertagnolli set to make his debut at Lillehammer 2021 this week. The Italian announced on Monday that he has recovered from COVID and will travel to Norway for the remaining technical events.
Anna-Lena Forster’s winning streak, on the other hand, appears much more assured. The German sit skier has been well outside reach since arriving in Norway and claimed her third straight gold at Lillehammer 2021 by finishing with a 36.68-second lead over super combined silver medallist, Canada’s Katie Combaluzier.
The Para alpine races of the Lillehammer 2021 World Para Snow Sports Championships continue with the women’s giant slalom race on Wednesday, 19 January.
All Lillehammer 2021 World Championships events are streamed live on the World Para Snow Sports Facebook page and the Para alpine skiing website.
Pictures for editorial purposes are available on Flickr.