Winter Paralympics: Kelly Gallagher wants to regain the winning feeling

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Gallagher discusses Pyeongchang and wedding plans
2018 Winter Paralympics
Venue: Pyeongchang, South Korea
Dates: 9-18 March 2018

After Paralympic champion Kelly Gallagher landed in a crumpled heap following a high-speed crash in training just before January's World Para-alpine Championships in Italy, she had just one thing on her mind.

"I knew immediately when I fell that there was something wrong with my arm so I got my guide Gary [Smith] to prise my engagement ring off my finger in case the medics had to cut it off. That was my priority!" the visually-impaired skier tells BBC Sport.

Recovering from a dislocated elbow and three broken ribs is a painful experience for Gallagher, who got engaged on Christmas Day, but with a year to go to the start of the Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, she is determined to recover and have the chance to add to her medal tally.

The 31-year-old Northern Irishwoman created history in Sochi in 2014 when she won Britain's first-ever Winter Paralympic gold medal along with then-guide Charlotte Evans in the Super-G event.

But she hopes the tumble in Tarvisio will not derail her bid to compete in a third Games.

"I came over a jump, didn't land well and couldn't recover from that and as a result I spun into the netting and hit some rocks," she explained.

"My GPS said I going fast - about 84 or 85 km per hour (approx 52mph).

"You tend to fall a lot in ski racing when you are pushing yourself to the limit but usually you are in control of your skis. This was a real accident."

Gallagher's injuries meant she missed all of the World Championships where her GB team-mates and rivals Millie Knight and Menna Fitzpatrick figured among the medals, and is sitting out the World Cup finals in Pyeongchang, which start on 12 March.

Kelly Gallagher and Charlotte Evans
Gallagher and Evans were awarded MBEs in the 2014 Queen's Birthday Honours list

Gallagher and Smith, an RAF communications technician, linked up together last year and while there is frustration they have missed out on the chance to improve their partnership on the slopes, Smith has travelled out to Pyeongchang with the rest of the GB team on a fact-finding mission.

"We were working so well together," she says. "He is the one with the eyes in our partnership and it's great he can still work on our campaign.

"Charlotte and Gary have similar qualities but different personalities.

"Both are great skiers, care about what we are doing, work hard and put in 100% commitment.

"I lost a lot of confidence after Sochi with changes in guide and not really knowing what I was up to. Now it is about Gary and I working together and me coming back with confidence after this injury.

"Charlotte and I had to work for a long time on understanding each other and building trust and confidence and that is what Gary and I are working on now to make us into a winning team.

"It is about understanding each other off-snow to make those perfect decisions when we are on snow."

Who else will be in action for ParalympicsGB in Pyeongchang?

The Great Britain team is likely to feature between 15 and 20 athletes, including the guides to Gallagher, Knight and Fitzpatrick.

GB has already qualified a wheelchair curling team for the Games, thanks to Scotland's performances over the course of the cycle.

Scotland accrues points on behalf of GB and although the team were relegated to the B Division in 2015 they were promoted back to the A Division last season.

The team are currently in action in the World Championships in Korea, which is a test event ahead of next year.

Four of the current Scotland squad won bronze in Sochi - Aileen Neilson, Angie Malone, Gregor Ewan and Robert McPherson and will be hoping to be selected again.

Aileen Neilson
Neilson was the skip of the GB team in Sochi and still has the role for the Scottish team

Snowboarding made its debut in Sochi and with more categories being competed for this time, world championship medallists Ben Moore and Owen Pick will hope to figure.

There is also a possibility of representation in cross-country skiing and biathlon for the first time since 1998 and British Paralympic Association chief Tim Hollingsworth says he is excited about the team's prospects after the success of Sochi.

The hope is they can beat the previous-best medal total of 10 from Innsbruck in 1984.

"We won six medals in Sochi, so the target is there to beat," he says.

"It is looking very exciting from a GB perspective. We are seeing growth in the opportunities for winter sport and we can hopefully see a broader spectrum of sport represented.

"We already had athletes in place in snowboard and we have good relationships with partner organisations like Help for Heroes in trying to identify athletes for cross-country and biathlon and also for the bobsleigh which will come in for the 2022 Games.

"Sporting bodies are building up their Paralympic programme and want to make the most of the opportunities."

What else can we expect in Pyeongchang?

The Games, which will be the first Winter Games to be held in South Korea, are set to attract up to 670 athletes from 45 nations - an increase on the 541 athletes who competed in Sochi four years ago.

There will be 80 medal events across six sports - alpine skiing, biathlon, cross country skiing, ice hockey (formerly sledge hockey), snowboard and wheelchair curling.

While preparations for the Games are going well, the International Paralympic Committee say they are concerned about awareness levels.

Russian athletes at the 2014 opening ceremony
Russia's hopes of participating at the Winter Paralympics are still in the balance

"The performances of Para athletes help to change the way people think about people with an impairment," said IPC president Sir Philip Craven, who met with the country's acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn to discuss preparations.

"The Games are a once-in-a-generation opportunity to further societal inclusion. However, with awareness levels still low, the transformational impact this event can have on South Korea may be reduced if progress is not made over the next 12 months."

At present, Russia remain suspended by the IPC and should they remain banned, it will have a massive impact on the medal table after the Russians won 80 medals, including 30 golds, in 2014.

Watch Path to Pyeongchang - Paralympics on the BBC News Channel at 20:30 GMT on Friday 10 March and afterwards via the BBC iPlayer

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