The PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games saw a legend sign off in style, with Bibian Mentel-Spee closing her career with double gold in snowboard.
The Dutch rider’s Paralympic dream almost did not happen due to the return of her cancer in the off-season. But that is what made her victories even more special and earns her the No. 2 spot on the International Paralympic Committee’s Top 10 Moments of 2018.
Known as one of the pioneers of Para snowboard, Mentel-Spee did not have an ideal start to 2018.
Around this time last year, Mentel-Spee was having surgery for a tumour found in her neck. If done early, she would have a chance to compete in PyeongChang, and that was a bonus.
“No it’s not easy to go through,” she had said. “Then again my doctor brought it to me saying it’s a no-brainer for me. You have to have this surgery to enjoy your life. So obviously the main goal from the surgery was to get the tumour removed and not be paralysed.”
“I always doubted my neck,” she continued. “And now I’m 100 per cent sure I have the green light and it’s OK to snowboard, and it feels secure enough on my snowboard to ride. So I’m a happy person, and I get to compete in Korea.”
Mentel-Spee, a multi-world and reigning snowboard-cross Paralympic champion, let go of any expectations entering PyeongChang.
“For me it is more important to compete there than to win,” she had said. “And just being there at the event with all my friends and showcasing the sport, that is the most important thing for me. I’m not really thinking about the results.”
The women’s SB-LL2 final featured a nail-biting, all-Dutch match-up between Mentel-Spee and the reigning snowboard-cross World Cup title winner Lisa Bunschoten.
The two made contact before approaching a jump, with Bunschoten stumbling on her landing and taking Mentel-Spee with her.
Considering Mentel-Spee’s neck surgery, the crash cause many to cringe.
But Mentel-Spee was the quickest to get back up and capture the gold medal.
The former able-bodied snowboarder waited at the finish area for Bunschoten and gave her a hug.
Banked slalom was the newest discipline added to the Paralympic programme, with athletes having three runs and the fastest winning the competition.
The women’s SB-LL2 came down to the final run that had the 45-year-old Mentel-Spee bumped to third. Needing to beat the USA’s Brittani Coury’s time of 59.87, Mentel-Spee obliterated her third – and perhaps final – Paralympic run with a time of 56.94.
From zero expectations after undergoing cancer treatment and neck surgery during the season, Mentel-Spee left PyeongChang with double gold.
In October 2018, she announced her retirement from competitive riding.
“I will always be a snowboarder, and I will always be snowboarding but maybe not doing the competitions as I used to and see where I can use my strengths to where I can progress the sport,” Mentel-Spee said.