Friday, December 14, 2012
Recently, Wikinews sat down with Australian standing Paralympic skiers Toby Kane, Cameron Rahles-Rahbula, and Mitchell Gourley who were in Vail, Colorado for a training camp for the start of this week’s IPC Nor-Am Cup.
((Wikinews)) I’m interviewing Cameron [Rahles-Rahbula] with a hyphenated last name, Mitchell Gourley, [and] Toby Kane. And they’re in Copper Mountain to compete with the IPC NorAm cup.
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: Yes.
((WN)) So you guys can qualify for Sochi?
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: Not this race, but yeah…
- Toby Kane: Any races that we kind of do, I think we can qualify, but technically, for the APC it would have to be a world cup first to qualify.
((WN)) Where’s the world cups?
- Toby Kane: We have one this year in Italy, in Sestriere, and one in St Moritz, in Switzerland…
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: and one in Slovenia, in Maribor, and Russia…
- Mitchell Gourley: world championships in La Molina in Spain as well, and Russia, the test event is another world cup in Sochi.
((WN)) You guys are all skiers, right?
- all (in unison): Yes.
((WN)) None of you, when they said “we’re doing snowboarding”, said “I want to jump ship and do snowboarding”?
- Toby Kane: No.
- Mitchell Gourley: No.
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: No.
((WN)) You all love the skiing.((WN)) (to Cameron Rahles-Rahbula): What did you do to your chin [which is taped up]?
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: I had a crash last week, and I split my chin open. I kneed myself here, so I had stitches.
- Toby Kane: Thirteen stitches.
((WN)) Crashed skiing right?
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: Yeah.
- Toby Kane: Our physio probably took out five last night.
((WN)) As somebody who knows very little about Paralympic skiing, I have a question having watched it. There seems to be three types skiiers: the ones who are in the monochairs, the ones who are blind, and the ones with amputations and the ones without arms. I’ve had this debate. Who’s the craziest amongst you? The ones who can’t see, the ones with no arms, or the ones on a mono-ski?
- Mitchell Gourley: The completely blind people are a little nuts.
- Toby Kane: A B1 is, blacked out goggles…
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: … who just follows the sound of their guides. So they’re probably, when it comes to speed events, in terms of fear level, that’s pretty intense.
((WN)) Not having arms, you don’t think, would be scarier?
- Mitchell Gourley: No.
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: Yeah, but you can see where you are going. When you have to trust the other person in front of you…
- Toby Kane: .. you have to be fairly crazy to do downhill in sit skis.
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: Those guys, they start crashing, or they have a mistake, they can’t recover in the same way a stand up can, so even though those classes aren’t going as quickly, probably stand ups in general have a bit more control, and to recover.
((WN)) Can you go and tell me your classifications?
- Toby Kane: Yeah, we all ski in the standing class. LW6/8-2
((WN)) Like L1…
- Mitchell Gourley: These guys are both LW2s because they’ve both got on leg.
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: So we ski with just one leg, with crutches, whereas you’ve got people who’ve got below-knee amputations, they may have a longer stump and they ski with a prosthetic leg. Toby and I have got to legally ski on one ski.
- Toby Kane: And what you were referring to before was the three classes of alpine skiing is standing, sitting, and blind.
((WN)) So you’ve all been to Paralympics before?
- Toby Kane: Cam’s been to three, I’ve been to two, and Mitch has been to one.
((WN)) And what was your favorite one? Do you have one?
- Mitchell Gourley: Vancouver. (laughter)
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: Vancouver it would have been.
((WN)) Because you love Canadians?
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: It’s also, obviously, skiing comes down to results. So, I loved Salt Lake City. I was there for experience, that was great. My second one, I had bit of a disaster Paralympics. I didn’t ski too well. Sestriere in 2006. The last one, I was able to come away with a couple of medals, so it was… I enjoyed that obviously. They all had different aspects.
((WN)) How did the ski slopes compare?
- Toby Kane: Vancouver, they’re good slopes.
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: Salt Lake City, was a little bit flatter. Probably the type of hill… it was still good, it was my first games, I enjoyed it. Yeah, they usually prepare the courses reasonably well, ’cause they’ve got a lot of course workers on the slopes. That has a big influence on condition, not just the actual hill itself. Vancouver was a challenge in the sense that we had terrible weather, terrible conditions and snow, even though it’s a good hill, whereas I think Sestriere we had sunshine virtually every day. So a lot of it comes down to weather as well as the hill, the time of year.
((WN)) In Australia, the big visibility Paralympics are the summer. Do you guys ever feel vaguely — I know it’s the wrong question to ask — but do you ever feel vaguely cheated because you’re doing neglected, you don’t get the attention, the ABC’s like “nah, we don’t want to cover you”?
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: umm…
- Toby Kane: Give us the official answer? (laughter, interjections from elsewhere in the room)
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: Australia being a summer sport [country], we’re aware that there’s going to be more focus on the summer games and particularly because there’s a larger… there’s more athletes, there more events, there more medals. There will always be more coverage for the summer games. There’s no winter athlete that could walk away with more than five gold medals. There’s not enough events for that. Whereas I think you can get a swimmer who might get eight gold medals. So, it’s a different sort of exposure.
- Mitchell Gourley: And realistically, it’s pretty unlikely for anybody in winter sport no matter how good they are, to walk away with more than one or two, just because of the nature of the sport, which is that anyone can crash. You can be a great skier all the year and then crash. [uncertain] can tell you about that in Vancouver. It’s a pretty unpredictable sport.
- Toby Kane: The way that our sport moved after Salt Lake City is that instead of Cam and I skiing against each other, and only people with one leg, to being really competitive across those three classes, means that we think that the winter games are really, really competitive. Quite difficult to win a medal. I think, if you took Michael Milton as an example, he won four gold at Salt Lake out of four events. He won one silver in Torino out of four events with the new system, and he compared both events to be equal. So, yeah, I think you’ve got to look at the value of the medals at the winter games now has been quite high.
((WN)) So you guys like the new point system they implemented?
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: There’s always challenges, because you’ve got different classes, and varied conditions, so they try and adapt the times to fit, but it’ll never be something that can be always right, because we’ve got a sport that’s got different conditions, and different locations, as opposed to a swimming pool, where you know you’ve got fifty metres. So that’s something that’ll always be a challenge, but in saying that, it has raised the bar, in terms of the standard of skiing, which is good. From an Australian perspective, not necessarily the public will be aware of that but I think from an international perspective, the skiing has moved into a more professional area, which is good, and I think that it will be the best thing for the sport moving forward.
((WN)) Evan O’Hanlon at the summer games was talking about the disparity problem between able bodied athletes and athletes with disabilities in terms of sponsorship. You guys have no visibility, is that something that you guys sit there going “we should have the same sponsorship as the great Australian skiers”?
- Mitchell Gourley: The problem in that is that in our sport we would probably be the most visible alpine skiers from Australia. The able bodied alpine team is pretty average and has been for a few years now, since a couple of guys retired after Vancouver. So we’re probably, while its still very small, it’s a lot less than the summer guys, even the summer Paralympics guys, were are more visible than the Australian alpine team.
- Toby Kane: I think a few of us, well Cam and I and I think Mitch is along the same lines, is that we’re not here for a career as an athlete. so I know I haven’t actively a lot of sponsorships. I have a life away from skiing with what I’m doing at the university and I’m here because I really love to do it, and I love to compete, but I’m not overly fussed about the public recognition of it all. I’m more concerned with skiing with our able-bodied counterparts and showing them what we can do.
((WN)) Do you guys get equal treatment? Your share of the same facilities, same trainers, that sort of stuff?
- Toby Kane: We train on the same hills.
- Mitchell Gourley: And last week we had pretty much the same races as the able-bodied had the week before on the same hills, and what they ski on next week, and we follow on that, so we don’t have to start. But with a hundred of… that’s why I’m a level below world cup for able-bodied skiers, and skiing on the same hill, and running pretty comparable times, and getting a lot of comments from coaches and athletes there. And yeah that’s what we all, I think, strive for. It’s an awkward thing to ever try and illustrate it to the Australian public, ski racing, and let alone Paralympic ski racing, and what we’re doing. So […] we’ve got to accept that we’re not going to get the recognition publicly probably that we may or may not deserve, and we more look towards our peers, whether they’re able bodied or disabled, and if they respect us, if the best able bodied skiers in the world respect what we are doing, and think that we are doing it bloody well, then we can hold our head high and feel really good. Had one of the best slalom skiers in the world walk up to me a few years ago when we were in training, and say “that’s some of the best slalom skiing that I’ve ever seen, wow that’s incredible. One-legged. I couldn’t do that on one leg”. That kind of thing. So that obviously makes us all feel like we’re doing something that while the recognition might not be there from the public, that we feel as though we are doing a really competitive and really difficult sport, and doing it to a really high level.
((WN)) You mentioned Australia being like a country of summer sports. What attracted you to winter sport in the first place?
- Mitchell Gourley: I think it’s a better sport. (laughter)
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: Australians, considering we don’t have many hills, Australians do love skiing, those that do it. It’s a unique sport in the sense that you get to travel at high speeds, on different mountains all over the world, under your own power, going down a hill at 130 or something k’s an hour, that sort of thing. You don’t get… to me, running up and down a track, or…
- Toby Kane: I think to me it’s a fun sport. There aren’t that many sports that people, a lot of people, spend heaps of their own money to go and do, as a pastime. As something that they want to do on the holidays and with their family and all that kind of stuff. It’s kind of cool that that’s what we do. Like, lots of people would spend a sh-tload of money to go skiing, and that’s our sport. Not many people would pay a heap of money to stare at a black line in a pool, or to run around a track against the clock.
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: Yeah, we love it, and that’s why I’ve done it for so many years, because I love the sport. I mean, racing’s one thing but if I didn’t enjoy skiing I wouldn’t be here and there’s not a day when… I mean you have cold days and weather and stuff, but you don’t… for us to get out and get on the hill isn’t a burden I don’t think in the same way as other sports can be.
- Toby Kane: I think the change for me — I think I can speak for Cam as well, ’cause he’s been around for a while — the change between racing in so many classes to racing in so few probably kept us around, I think. It made it a lot more competitive; it made it a lot more of a challenge, that previously it wouldn’t have been, and I think if we took an LW2 class right now we’d be getting similar results to what Michael got in Salt Lake City, so, the fact that it did get a lot more competitive is probably why I’ve been here for so long, in the challenge to keep competing and keep improving and keep performing at the highest level.
((WN)) Are there any skiers that you’re looking forward to racing against this week coming up?
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: This week I think Australia has a pretty good, strong team from a standing perspective, so we’re probably racing against each other.
((WN)) So you do not care about the Chileans, or whoever, hanging around?
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: The Canadian and American teams are here, and they’ve got some developing athletes. Probably more the Europeans who are developing who’ve got the highest others skiing in our particular division, and the Americans are very strong with their sit skiers. So this week being just a North American-based race we’ll probably be looking at the other two in terms of racing, but yeah, when we get over to the world cups over in Europe in January, that’s when the whole field’s together, and gives us some idea of what we’re racing against.
((WN)) I feel like we’re almost coming to a close. What do you do outside of skiing? You had some life you said.
- Cameron Rahles-Rahbula: I work as a physiotherapist, and I am a family man. Since Vancouver I haven’t skied a huge amount since then. I’ve got a little boy, and so other priorities definitely start to take effect. I think as a skier, it’s a challenge from the travelling perspective when you do have family. I think that’s unlike a lot of summer athletes who have their training base next door. For us, we need to be always on the move, so that’s always one of the challenges with alpine skiing. You get the privilege of travelling but you’re away from your family, so for me, my last year I have focused more on family life and sort of getting back into the skiing this year.
((WN)) What do you do Mitchell?
- Mitchell Gourley: I’m still studying. I’m a bit younger than these guys so I’m…
((WN)) Which university?
- Mitchell Gourley: I’m at Melbourne University studying. So I’ve got pretty much a year to go now, but that’ll take me two years to do just because of where Sochi is, in March 2014 I’ll cut back this year coming, 2013, and I’ll only do probably about half — I’ll do five subjects as opposed to eight, just because when you’re out travelling during the year and prepping, using your weekend to ski will it getting to you like that. With the schedule, from June to the end September will be pretty much flat skiing. Last time I did that leading into Vancouver, I mean I do that every year but probably a bigger load in the games lead that kind of thing. And I did that in the middle of Year 12 last time, and that was interesting, but now I can actually…
((WN)) You finished your VCEs then?
- Mitchell Gourley: I finished that during the…
((WN)) And you did well?
- Mitchell Gourley: Yeah, I was happy with how I went, so that was good of me. I moved schools to pursue what I was doing with skiing, to an international school that really helped structure things around me with my environment, and I sort of cut back on subjects and things but managed to make it work those times, but yeah. For me, it’s university for a couple of years, or for a year and a half or so to knock that over. So then I have to think about getting a real job and that’s a scary thought, a real job, or eventually doing further study, based on the Melbourne model, being what it is now that you can’t usually do much with your first degree. (laughter)
((WN)) And Toby, what are..?
- Toby Kane: I’m halfway through postgraduate medicine, so I am just trying to balance that and getting in to Russia. And Russia will be my third games, and most probably my last. And then it’ll be the start of my fourth year of medicine so, yeah, I’m a bit like Cam, I’ve skied probably less over the last two years since Vancouver, just with uni and I’m kind of looking forward to putting everything that I’ve got left in me into skiing until Russia.
((WN)) Thank you very, very much. It was much appreciated. ((WN)) Look forward to seeing you guys in Russia!