The B3 team of Chris Williamson and guide Bobby Taylor earned silver and bronze medals this week in the visually impaired downhill and super G at the Paralympics.
Williamson and Taylor were the fastest team of the day Sunday, winning the downhill by more than three seconds, but fell to second place by 0.77 seconds when the B2 team of Gerd Gradwohl and guide Karl Heinz Vachenauer squeaked ahead after the timing adjustment.
Third place went to Nicolas Berejny and guide Sophie Troc of France, although standings could have been different if Berejny hadn’t slid the last 15 metres or so of the race on his back.
Even though he was the favourite going in, Williamson was ecstatic with his medal.
"It’s a great way to start," he said, adding that he will be competing in all four alpine events.
"Last time we were in Salt Lake City I tore my MCL the day before the downhill, which was a bad way to start.
"It was a good competition, the times were really close, and it was a fight to the end to be on the podium, so I’m happy with the result."
Williamson, the son of an Olympic speed skater, was diagnosed with a condition called Taxplasmosis at a young age as was told he would be completely blind by his late teens. He continues to defy expectations, however, and retains some vision. His guide is a dark blur on a field of white, but they still use headsets to communicate on their way down the course.
Taylor goes first, calling out turns, gates, and other course features as they go, and Williamson lets Taylor know when he passes those features so his guide can speed up or slow down without looking over his shoulder.
At speeds of over 110 km/h, that could be dangerous says Williamson. That speed is also why downhill is Williamson’s favourite event.
"I’m going down the course faster than most people drive, and I can’t drive at all so it’s a little twist of fate," he said.
"It takes a lot of trust in your guide. At the speeds we’re going we have to trust each other so we can focus on the effort."
Getting coordinated is hard work. Williamson lives and works in Toronto, while Taylor is based in Vancouver. They train most of the time on their own, and Taylor spends a few days training in Ontario, and Williamson a few days training in B.C., usually at national team training camps.
They teamed up for a bronze medal in Tuesday’s super G, but it was a bit controversial.