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Monday, December 6, 2021

Winter Paralympics: James Barnes-Miller targets place on GB team in Beijing

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British snowboarder James Barnes-Miller
Barnes-Miller was a talented skateboarder before taking up snowboarding

With 100 days to go to the start of the Winter Paralympics, Great Britain snowboarder James Barnes-Miller believes he can make a big impact in China next March.

The 32-year-old from Kent created history in Pyeongchang in 2018 as the first athlete to represent GB in the sport at the Paralympics.

And after missing out on a medal, but with more experience under his belt, he wants to impress if he gets to a second Games.

“I’m fitter, stronger and more knowledgeable than I was four years ago,” he tells BBC Sport.

“Back then, I was quite new to elite sport and didn’t know a lot about the athlete lifestyle, how to use the support staff in the right way and even how the Paralympics worked.

“Pyeongchang was a good trial run. I wasn’t at the level I needed to be at to contend for medals but I knew what I needed to do and I started winning medals at the World Cup races the following season and gone on from that.

“I still have lots to learn but we are in a better place now.”

The opening ceremony for the Games is due to take place on Friday, 4 March with competition starting the following day and then continuing until Sunday, 13 March.

A maximum of 736 athletes will compete in 78 medal events across five sports – alpine skiing, wheelchair curling, Para ice hockey, Nordic skiing (including cross-country and biathlon) and snowboard.

Para-bobsleigh had submitted a bid to be included, but after being provisionally accepted, it was turned down by the International Paralympic Committee in 2018, their decision stating the sport had failed to fulfil the criteria for inclusion.

Four years ago, Pyeongchang featured 569 athletes in 80 events with the United States topping the medal table with 36 medals, including 13 golds, followed by the Neutral Paralympic Athletes team made up of Russian athletes.

The snowboard programme at the Games features both snowboard-cross (also known as boardercross) and banked slalom events for athletes with lower and upper limb impairments.

Barnes-Miller, who was born without a hand, finished seventh in the former and 10th in the latter in his SB-UL category in 2018 but won the overall Crystal Globe World Cup trophy for snowboard-cross last season.

He and his GB Snowsport team-mates including fellow Paralympian Owen Pick, start their season in the Netherlands this weekend with a couple of banked slalom races before snowboard-cross races in Finland and a trip to the USA before January’s World Championship in Norway.

“Boardercross has always been my preferred event but we’ve put a lot of time and effort into the banked slalom and I’m growing to love it,” he says.

“The sport has grown massively since Pyeongchang and competitors are getting better and races are harder to win and it will definitely be a spectacle at the Games.”

Who else is hoping to represent GB in Beijing?

Paralympic skier Menna Fitzpatrick
Menna Fitzpatrick became Britain’s most decorated Winter Paralympian in Pyeongchang alongside guide Jen Kehoe

Barnes-Miller will be aiming to be part of what is expected to be a GB team of between 20-25 athletes and guides.

Visually impaired skiers Menna Fitzpatrick and Millie Knight will be hoping to add to the medals they won in 2018.

Fitzpatrick will have a new guide in Scotland’s Katie Guest after her successful pairing with Jen Kehoe ended this year, the pair having won Paralympic gold, two silvers and a bronze.

Knight, who won a silver and two bronzes with Brett Wild, has had to deal with concussion issues after a training crash in February – her third episode after two bouts in 2017.

The wheelchair curling team have qualified as one of the 12 teams for their event thanks to Scotland’s performances at the last three World Championships, including at the recent Worlds in Beijing where they finished sixth.

Para-Nordic skier Scott Meenagh
Scott Meenagh represented GB in Para-rowing before focussing on winter sports

Scott Meenagh will be bidding to make it to his second Games in the Para-Nordic skiing events which includes both cross-country and biathlon, with Callum Deboys and Steve Arnold also regulars on the World Cup circuit along with Steve Thomas who is already a summer and winter Paralympian and is aiming to compete in his third different sport.

The team have been boosted by the recent announcement of a partnership with Formula 1 team Williams’ advanced engineering business which will apply F1 expertise to other sporting areas.

However, for the third Games in a row, there will be no GB representation in the Para-ice hockey event.

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