After winning five gold medals in as many races at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, Germany’s visually impaired biathlete and cross-country skier Verena Bentele has been named the Best Female Athlete for the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Paralympic Sport Awards.
The award, proudly partnered by Allianz, the IPC’s international partner, was presented to Bentele during the Paralympic Awards Gala on 10 December in the Intercontinental Hotel ballroom in Beijing, China.
Bentele beat out four other finalists for the award: Canadian alpine skier Lauren Woolstencroft, Russian biathlete and cross-country skier Vasilyeva Liubov, Slovakian alpine skier Henrieta Farkasova and American alpine skier Alana Nichols.
In Vancouver, Bentele stood atop the podium in Biathlon (3km Pursuit, 12.5km Pursuit) and Cross-Country Skiing (15km Freestyle, 5km Classic Style, Sprint Classic Style), racking up her total Paralympic Games medal count to 16.
“I think that’s the best an athlete can do,” she said of her performance in Vancouver. “That’s one of the very, very few moments as an athlete where I did everything right.”
That performance came just a little more than a year after a severe accident on the slopes.
At the German Championships in January 2009, Bentele seriously injured her knee, fingers, liver and kidney when she fell into a ditch after her guide gave her the wrong directions.
Bentele did not know if she would recover to full strength in time for Vancouver, and she decided to part ways with her former guide. As soon as she started getting healthy again, she began to work with her brother’s former guide, whom she immediately built up new trust with, increasing her own self-confidence.
Bentele overcame some of the toughest odds in no time.
“That was the very bottom of my career,” Bentele said of her accident. “To have both the bottom and peak of my career in one year and three months, that’s very, very interesting.”
After being on Germany’s national team for 16 years, Bentele recently announced her retirement this past November.
“I’m 29 now,” Bentele said. “It’s not a very high age for a Paralympic athlete, but I think for me, it’s time to find new challenges.”
Bentele completed her university studies in January and now works as a freelancer in human resources, helping people with business development. She also serves as a motivational speaker.
Bentele leaves the sport with 16 Paralympic Games medals, 12 of them coloured gold.
Half of her medals are in her parent’s home at Lake Constance, while the other half sit in her small apartment in Munich.
Her next Paralympic-related task will be to find a giant glass case to display them all, she said.
“I need that kind of furniture when I get a bigger apartment, I think, but not yet,” Bentele joked.