Sep 12 2019

Inner drive keeps Gourley motoring

Australia’s Mitchell Gourley wins gold in the giant slalom at the world cup event at Thredbo on Tuesday. Photo: Jeff CrowMitchell Gourley has always had the drive to do just a bit better than the next person on the sporting field. It began to show itself with games of backyard cricket against his older brother Cameron that would end with cricket bats and balls flying at – and hitting – each other.
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In hindsight, Gourley knows that it was more than sibling rivalry that caused the competitive spirit. Gourley was born without the lower part of his left arm, and always felt that he had something to prove, a conviction that drove him to play not only cricket, but football and basketball as well as travelling to the ski-fields with his family on the weekends.

“I was the standard younger brother and … I always nipping at (Cameron’s) heels and trying to do what he did and try and be better,” Gourley said.

“We had some doozies in the backyard. There were cricket balls flying, cricket bats and all kinds of (things) like that.

“Obviously I knew that I had one arm but I didn’t really think about it. You don’t start thinking about it until you get to an age when kids start pointing it out and you go, ‘Oh whatever’.

“(But) I was pretty lucky, I didn’t have too many issues. A lot people probably go through a bit of bullying at school and obviously I’d like to see it not happen to people in the future but I was pretty lucky.

“The opportunity to compete against able-bodied guys is something that you always, especially for someone who had a congenital (disability) or lost their leg really early, you’ve got more to prove at school or at footy or cricket or whatever you’re doing at the time.

“I don’t know whether that’s a chip on your shoulder or what but there’s just a little bit more drive because you’ve got something to prove so you probably compete a lot harder and try a lot harder.

“I think that is something that happened with me without me really knowing it.”

Gourley, who has been a strong performer on the world cup circuit, is one of Australia’s best medal chances at next year’s Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi. This week at a world cup event at Thredbo, the 22-year-old Victorian backed up his results from the New Zealand event late last month where he won three silver medals and one bronze medal, by winning the giant slalom races (standing classification) on Monday and Tuesday.

In albeit small fields that do not include many of the top European rivals, Australian competitors had an improved performance on the slopes on Tuesday after disappointing first-up races on Monday. In addition to Gourley’s second gold in Tuesday’s giant slalom races, retiring triple Paralympian Cameron Rahles-Rahbula (standing) and Jess Gallagher (visually impaired) won silvers while Tori Pendergast (sitting) won bronze.

The focus now moves to slalom races Wednesday and Thursday.

With Australia likely to send a team of about five alpine skiers and two snowboarders to Sochi, Gourley said he hoped that success there would translate into increased recognition for the athletes who have remained in the shadow of their summer colleagues who enjoyed great exposure at the London Paralympics.

“We probably don’t have the exposure that the summer guys do and particularly in Aust and particularly after London and that can be a tough pill to swallow sometimes,” he said.

“We probably feel like the attention should be starting to shift (to winter sports) but we’re still in this London afterglow not only in the Australian media but even with the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) which can be tough to swallow because we work just as hard.

“I think that’s probably a misconception that maybe the winter guys don’t. It’s (similar) to what people think about surfers. No one thinks surfers go to the gym but they do, the best guys in the world don’t sit around sitting smoking weed and drinking beer these days. Sport has become professional so you’ve got to work harder or you get left behind.”

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