Aucklander chases world championship 25 Jan 2000

Aucklander chases world championship gold with NZ Disabled Ski Team

Visually impaired Auckland skier Sue Gardiner is skiing strongly, and in good form leading up to the World Ski Championships for the Disabled, which begin in Anzčre, Switzerland this Thursday (January 27).

Along with fellow New Zealand team members Mathew Butson (Invercargill), Rachael Battersby and Steve Bayley (both Canterbury), and coach Patrick Cooper, Gardiner and her guide (husband David) arrived in Anzčre last Saturday.

Bayley, New Zealand's 1999 Skier of the Year and 1999 Disabled Skier of the Year, is a below knee amputee and will race in the LW4 class (using a prosthesis and two skis), while Battersby, an arm amputee, races in the LW6/8 division (two skis, with one pole) and Butson, a below knee and arm amputee, races in the LW9 class.

The team has been training in Winter Park, Colorado, over the last three months in preparation for the world champs. All four skiers recorded wins in their respective classes at the recent Huntsman Cup event, providing a good indicator of their form leading up to the world champs.

Gardiner, a rehabilitation teacher with the New Zealand Foundation for the Blind, has been visually impaired since birth and skis in the B2 class. Her condition, achromotopsia, means her vision is blurred, she is extremely sensitive to light and has difficulty discerning colours. Unable to see the gates during ski races, she has a guide who skis in front of her and calls each turn and changes in terrain.

Prior to meeting David Gardiner, her sporting involvement was limited. The two skied together at Nagano, and were married in May, 1998.

While expecting strong competition from Spanish, Czechoslovakian and Austrian skiers, Gardiner is aiming for top three placings across the four disciplines - slalom, giant slalom, downhill and super G.

"Training has been going well. We have only had a short time in Winter Park, but skiing strongly," Gardiner says.

A member of the New Zealand disabled ski team since 1996, Gardiner skied well at her first major international event, the 1998 Nagano Winter Paralympics, where she placed fourth in downhill, super G and giant slalom.

The team's most experienced international representative, Butson - a below knee and arm amputee - already has three Nagano Paralympic golds and a silver to his credit.

The world champs kick off on Friday with the women's downhill, followed by the men's downhill on Saturday.

Around 25 international teams, comprising more than 200 skiers in total, are contesting the events, which are run over 11 classes covering a range of disabilities. Skiers race over one run each in the speed events (downhill and super G), and combine their best times over two runs for the technical races (slalom and giant slalom).

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