Australia to celebrate first Paralympic Winter gold

On 25 March, the APC will honour Michael Milton, who began Australia’s Winter Games success.

Man with one leg skis down a hill. Australia's Michael Milton on his way to gold in the super-G during the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Paralympic Games. © • Getty

On 25 March the Australian Paralympic Committee (APC) will celebrate 25 years since Para alpine legend Michael Milton won Australia’s first ever medal at a Paralympic or Olympic Winter Games. Milton’s success kicked starting the country’s winter sports success.

Returning to the slopes for his second Paralympic Games campaign at Albertville 1992, Milton recorded a combined time of 1:14.11 in the men’s slalom for lower limb amputees; he beat Germany’s then-unbeatable world champion Alexander Spitz to win a gold medal on day one of competition.

Having set himself the goal of a podium finish, Milton was ecstatic with his victory.

“In context, Australia hadn’t been successful and weren’t really advanced in the sport, but I did feel I had an outside chance for bronze,” the six-time Paralympian recalled.

“My expectations were pretty relaxed. But then Spitz was disqualified, and even though Greg Mannino was a pretty experienced campaigner, he tended to overcook his second runs, so I knew I was in with a chance.”

Leading the field after their first run, he held out eventual silver medallist Mannino and bronze medallist Rainer Bergmann, who clocked times of 1:16.81 and 1:21.03, respectively, to finish atop the podium.

It was among his most dominant Paralympic performances ever. Milton’s result was particularly impressive considering he had been given just a few hours’ notice to prepare for the slalom, with weather conditions prompting Games organisers to move it forward a week.

“I was really excited, hugely excited, but with three events left it tempers your celebrations a bit,” Milton said.

“It probably gave me the opportunity to build a little bit of self-belief.”

Further consolidating his place among the world’s most elite Para alpine skiers, Milton used this confidence to add to his medal haul with a silver in the super-G.

His Paralympic career spanned over 20 years, accumulating six gold, three silver and two bronze medals. His career included a stint in track and road cycling.

In 2002 he was crowned the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability following his four-gold medal haul at the 2002 Paralympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, USA. In 2006 he set a new Australian downhill speed skiing record, clocking a staggering 213.65 km/h to beat the old mark set by able-bodied rival Nick Kirshner.

With less than a year to go until the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, to be held on 9-18 March, Milton looks forward to following Australia’s results.

To the Para athletes competing, he said:

“Ski fast! For those just looking to qualify, soak it up and enjoy. For those chasing medals, put your head down and your bum up! Be meaningful in your preparation.”

Around 10-12 Australian athletes expected to compete at PyeongChang 2018.