“It is a very big privilege to be a member of the Paralympic Hall of Fame. For me it was an incredible time in the last 15 years for me to be part of the Paralympic Movement.”
Spanish visually impaired skier Eric Villalon Fuentes, German visually impaired skier Verena Bentele and American cross-country skiing coach Jon Kreamelmeyer were all inducted into the Visa Paralympic Hall of Fame on (Saturday) 8 March at the Ayvazovsky Hotel in Sochi, Russia.
Launched in 2006, by founding partner Visa, the Paralympic Hall of Fame aims to recognise retired athletes and coaches who have a track record of excellent athletic performance, history of fair play and participation in community activities.
With this latest induction coinciding with the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, only athletes and coaches involved in winter sports were considered.
Villalon Fuentes competed in three Paralympic Winter Games from 1998-2006 as a visually impaired skier. He won five golds, three silvers and a bronze, making him Spain’s most successful winter Paralympian of all-time. From 2000-2004, he also won five world titles and a bronze medal.
Villalon Fuentes said: “It is a pleasure to receive this valuable award, being the opportunity to recognise the well done job by many people that worked and helped me in my incredible sporting journey.”
Since retiring from competition, he has become an ambassador for Play and Train, an international organisation with the objective of providing access to the practice, learning and training of leisure and elite sport activities for people with an impairment.
Bentele is the most successful female biathlete of all-time and the second most successful cross-country skier. In four Paralympic Winter, she won 12 golds, two silver and two bronze medals in the visually impaired class.
She saved her best for last by winning five golds in as many events at the Vancouver 2010 Games. After Vancouver, she retired at age 29 and in 2011 was named Best Female at the Paralympic Sport Awards and won the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability award.
Bentele said: “It is a very big privilege to be a member of the Paralympic Hall of Fame. For me it was an incredible time in the last 15 years for me to be part of the Paralympic Movement.”
Kreamelmeyer was an athlete guide for cross-country skier Michelle Drolet at the Albertville 1992 and Lillehammer 1994 Paralympics, winning a bronze in the 1994 Games.
He then served as the head coach of the USA’s Paralympic cross-country skiing team from 1998-2006, during which time US athletes claimed 11 Paralympic podium positions, as well numerous World Cup wins and podium finishes.
Kreamelmeyer said: “I am overwhelmed and truly honoured to be here to here today. If I could divide this award into pieces I would give a piece to every athlete I have worked with.”
The IPC received nominations from members of the public and the IPC membership for the Hall of Fame, and the IPC Governing Board was asked to vote on who they felt should be inducted.
Athletic performance, fair play, a contribution to a team or team spirit and behaviour away from the field of play were all vital factors in the decision process.
Only those who had competed in two Paralympic Winter Games, had won medals as an athlete or coach and had not competed since the Vancouver Games were considered for induction.
Muffy Davis, an American Paralympic champion in both alpine skiing and cycling, served as Master of Ceremonies for the induction event.
Previous winter sport inductees into the Visa Paralympic Hall of Fame include:
• Chris Waddell (USA) – five golds, five silver and two bronze medals in alpine skiing
• Tanji Kari (FIN) – 10 golds, one silver and one bronze medal in cross-country skiing
• Rolf Hettich (GER) – 39 golds, 47 silvers and 34 bronze medals coaching Nordic skiing
• Annemie Schneider (GER) – four golds, one silver and two bronze medals in alpine skiing
• Jouko Grip (FIN) – 10 golds and three silvers in Nordic skiing and athletics
• Una Renvall (NOR) – 14 golds, one silver and one bronze medal coaching Nordic skiing and athletics