Sport Other Sports Single medal redeems Australia in Sochi

Single medal redeems Australia in Sochi

Toby Kane on his way to a medal in the men's giant slalom.
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Winter Paralympics host nation Russia is swelling with pride over their 70-medal haul, but for Australia it took only one to do the same job.

So immense was the potential of Australia’s 11-strong team that six medals were seen as an entirely plausible goal in Sochi.

Now, entering the final day of a Games pinned by many in the contingent as the most difficult they’ve ever experienced, a sobering reassessment has occurred.

Even before they arrived in Russia, the squad were swallowed up by the grief of losing their teammate and friend, world No.1 para-snowboarder Matt Robinson, to a serious race accident.

Spurred on by the drive to compete in Robinson’s honour, they descended on Sochi with renewed resolve to win.

But Australia’s campaign would amount to a week of bitter disappointment.

Vancouver dual bronze medallist Cameron Rahles-Rahbula fell in training before proceedings even began, fracturing his tibia to rule him out of his fourth and final Games.

Mitchell Gourley and Jess Gallagher crashed out of the pet events in which they held the No.1 world ranking.

Gold medal shoo-in Melissa Perrine was farcically disqualified from the vision-impaired super-combined for duct taping an illegal sun visor to her helmet.

Two days later 19-year-old Joany Badenhorst was carted off to hospital, having dislocated her patella hours before her debut para-snowboard cross event.

It all strained so tight there were genuine fears Australia would emerge medal-less from a winter Games for the first time in 26 years.

The cavalry finally came in the form of Toby Kane.

And a bronze medal in the men’s standing super-combined may as well have been a truck full of golds.

“It’s definitely been a tough Games so far for us as a whole,” said Kane, who skis on one leg.

“I’m really glad I could get myself and the team across the line.

The retiring 27-year-old who yearned to wrap up his third and final Games with a result to add to his Super-G bronze in Torino 2006.

With his medal came closure to a disheartening Vancouver campaign, and even crashing out of his final event (giant slalom) on Saturday couldn’t upset him.

“Any time you don’t finish is not a great day, but I still feel smiley,” Kane said.

Gourley raced the giant slalom with ferocity to finish his first run just one hundredth of a second behind Russian five-time Sochi medallist Alexey Bugaev.

But a strong split in the second was abruptly rendered futile when he caught a ski coming around the fourth-last gate.

“Obviously I’m gutted,” Gourley said.

“But I put it all out there, and I went down swinging.”

France’s Vincent Gauthier-Manuel won gold to add to his silver and bronze in the slalom and downhill, while Bugaev took silver and Markus Salcher of Austria claimed bronze.

Perrine, Gallagher and Australia’s first female sit-skier Tori Pendergast will contest the giant slalom on Sunday from 9.30am (1630 AEDT).