Riders chase – and watch – for Mentel-Spee at Big White 2017

The Dutch athlete will attempt to defend her first of two world gold medals as snowboard-cross begins. 04 Feb 2017
Woman on snowboard turns on a banked turn

The Netherlands' Bibian Mentel-Spee in snowboard-cross at the 2017 World Para Snowboard Championships in Big White, Canada.

ⒸGavin Crawford

"Thinking back 10 years ago when we started, when it wasn’t a Paralympic sport, and we only had like five riders. And now it has really grown. "

As Bibian Mentel-Spee took her position at the start gate, alongside two other male riders, another athlete shouted: “C’mon Bibian show them how it’s done.”

The Dutch snowboarder is well-known among her fellow competitors. Being the reigning snowboard-cross and banked slalom SB-LL2 world champion, let alone a Paralympic champion, it is easy to understand why.

As she trained on the course at the 2017 World Para Snowboard Championships – currently underway until 8 February at Big White, Canada – other riders paused to watch her ride.

On Saturday (4 February), many more will pause to watch her attempt another snowboard-cross gold. Live results will be available at World Para Snowboard's website.

“I want to podium,” Mentel-Spee said. “Of course the highest aim is the gold. But there are some girls who are really stepping up their game. So I have to really focus on my own riding and hopefully it’s enough.”

After two days of training, Mentel-Spee also paused to observe other riders.

Compatriot Lisa Bunschoten and Australia’s Joany Badenhorst expect to chase. Badenhorst took runner-up to Mentel-Spee in banked slalom at the 2015 World Championships but did not finish in snowboard-cross. Twenty-one-year-old Bunschoten returns older and more experienced to improve on her bronze from La Molina, Spain.

Another Dutch rider Renske van Beek will, for the first time at the Worlds stage, compete against the very snowboarder who inspired her to take up the sport.

But the increased competition is what Mentel-Spee, who was integral in getting the sport into Sochi 2014, has pioneered for.

“[During trainings] we saw so many people at the start gate,” she said. “At the beginning [in the past] we could do laps and laps and laps. Now I really had to wait. There are [16] different countries at these World Championships. Thinking back 10 years ago when we started, when it wasn’t a Paralympic sport, and we only had like five riders. And now it has really grown. It’s just amazing to see.”

Not every lap was perfect for Mentel-Spee during training.

“To be honest I was a little intimidated by the start section. But it ran just perfectly,” she said. “It was really flowy and I love riding it. It was really fun. I wiped out the third time I rode it. I wasn’t too focused enough. ... So I did crash but the fourth run was really nice.”

Still, that crash did not stop one athlete from approaching her at the end of training to say how much he enjoyed watching her ride.

And she plans to ride more after Big White 2017.

“Hopefully if I do really well here I will qualify for the Paralympic Games in PyeongChang 2018. So that is my aim, to qualify and get the best results I can do,” she said.

“The Test Event is going to be in March, so I’m also looking forward to that.”

Around 70 athletes from 15 countries are in Big White for the 2017 World Para Snowboard Championships, which runs until 8 February. It is a chance for athletes to secure qualification spots for their countries at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.

The first world champions will be crowned on Saturday in snowboard-cross. Banked slalom finals will be contested on 7 February.

Full results will available at Bigwhite2017.com

Rights free pictures for editorial use are available for download at Flickr/paralympic.

The competition can also be followed on Facebook.com/ParaSnowboard, Twitter and Instagram (@ParaSnowboard).