Four-time Winter Paralympians Melissa Perrine and Mitch Gourley will kick off their final Games in style, named Australia’s flag bearers at the Beijing Games opening ceremony.
Perrine, a dual bronze medallist in PyeongChang, and 2017 Men’s Super Combined Standing world champion Gourley will both call time on their careers after Beijing.
An emotional Gourley delighted in the news, delivered to him by chef de mission Kate McLoughlin as he was in his recovery gear completing physiotherapy.
They're one big happy family with plenty of characters. Here's why Australia will fall in love with our #Beijing2022 Australian Winter Paralympic Team. Don't forget to tune in to 7plus from 4 March to see them in action.#ReadySetSnow #WinterParalympics #ParaSnowSports pic.twitter.com/pEsbeBfkkp
— AUS Paralympic Team (@AUSParalympics) February 26, 2022
“To be surprised with that and also to have the chance to share it with Mel is incredibly special because we’ve spent the best part of 15 years travelling together,” he told reporters.
“I was still in high school when I met Mel, that’s how long we’ve been doing this together
“It’s special to share these last everything with her, we’ve both been pretty up front that this is it for us
“We were both blubbering messes in Austria about a week ago at our last-ever day training in Europe after so many years
“It’s special to share that moment as well as all those other last moments but also reflecting on all the other first moments we had together and everything in between.”
Gourley, 30, and Perrine, 34, made their Winter Paralympics debuts together in 2010 and McLoughlin hailed the experienced duo.
“Mel and Mitch are almost an institution in this team. For both, it’ll be their fourth Games, which is super-exciting,” McLoughlin said.
“The longevity they’ve had in their careers has been pretty amazing.
“Mitch is incredibly well-respected within the international snow sports community, particularly in the para space … he’s got that leadership quality
“You could just sense it when you came into the village that there’s this level of respect for Mitch.
“(Perrine’s) an inspiration to the athletes, not just because of the way she goes about her skiing and her approach to her sport but the way that she’s been able to balance her life with international skiing has been pretty impressive.
“Three degrees, plus she’s able to travel the world and able to stay at the top of her game.”
#Throwback to one of the pioneers of #ParaSnowSports in Australia, PA Hall of Fame inductee Ron Finneran OAM. Hear Ron share some of his story, from his very first time skiing to representing AUS at the inaugural #WinterParalympics in 1976, and more.#ReadySetSnow #Beijing2022 pic.twitter.com/jQhtkusRWJ
— AUS Paralympic Team (@AUSParalympics) March 3, 2022
Gourley will march on Friday night then compete in downhill racing on Saturday, after initially contemplating dropping his opening race to focus on later disciplines.
“The goal is to have fun and I had a lot of fun in those training runs, right. I figured why not? Let’s go out there and enjoy one last run of downhill,” he said.
“I’m never gonna get the opportunity again to ski 130km/h down a hill with the whole thing closed and perfect safety netting from top to bottom so I might as well take that chance
“It’ll be a bit of a shorter sleep than it would’ve been the last couple of Games, when I haven’t gone to the ceremony but it’s really exciting.
“The only time I’ve been to an opening ceremony was Vancouver as a 17,18 year-old, so it’s nice to bookend it finishing up with one.
“To share that with Mel and the flag is pretty special, leading this team.”
Para snowboarder Ben Tudhope won’t attend as he is based at a different village while Gourley’s fellow men’s downhill skiiers Sam Tait and Patrick Jensen, plus sighted guide Amelia Hodgson, will stay in the village ahead of competing on Saturday.