Woolstencroft exceeds even her own expectations

Standing skier wows with five gold medals from Creekside alpine races

There's a chance that those who watched Lauren Woolstencroft dominate the women's standing races in the 2010 Paralympic alpine events might not have gained a complete picture of the steely competitor.

The roaring crowds and stands full of supporters at the Whistler Creekside races saw the North Vancouver skier sweep to a jaw-dropping five gold medals in her five events, and they relished her strong, steady skiing. But they never had a chance to see her get fired up by falling behind any of her competitors, because in Whistler, no one could catch her.

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Woolstencroft's teammate Josh Dueck, the sit-skier who delighted the Creekside crowds and his large band of family members and friends by speeding to a silver medal in his Paralympic slalom race, said the golden girl of the 2010 Games is a "champion in and out" who shows extra competitive fire when another racer slips ahead of her in standings.

"She's very stoic. She's very reserved in how she lets herself out (But) there are a lot of girls that can challenge Lauren, at this competition or at any competition - I've seen her on the down side, where she's in second or third, and that's when she gets really fired up. When she achieves her potential, she stays calm and lets it carry over for the next race," Dueck said after Saturday's (March 20) super combined race, the final alpine skiing event of the 2010 Paralympics.

But even without a display of Woolstencroft's extra edge, the 28-year-old standing skier still served up a truly magnificent performance. Her five gold medals in one Games makes her one of the two most decorated female athlete in a single Winter Paralympics - along with 2010 Nordic star Verena Bentele of German. It also puts her into the history books alongside Canadian Paralympians Stephanie Dixon and Chantal Petitclerc, each of whom has won five gold medals at a single Games.

Recognizing her historic performance, the Canadian Paralympic Committee chose Woolstencroft to carry the flag into Whistler Medals Plaza for the Closing Ceremony on Sunday evening (March 21), an honour that the ski racer said came as "a big surprise" since she was surrounded by such a strong Canadian team.

"It was never my goal to carry the flag - I was really focused on my own performance. It's such a big surprise, and (I'm) obviously really humbled. It's definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Woolstencroft said.

Her golden surge helped push the host nation to new heights in total gold medals won, and played a big part in the Canadian team reaching the Own the Podium goal of finishing among the top three nations in the gold-medal tally at the 2010 Paralympics. With 10 total gold medals, Canada finished third behind Germany and Russia, while tying for third place in total medals with Ukraine.

Born without legs below her knees and no left arm below her elbow, Woolstencroft has been skiing since she was four years old and racing since she was 14, which probably accounts for some of the superior strength and smoothness in her skiing and the confident way she careens around race gates.

Despite a background that includes four gold medals won at the 2009 world championships and five Paralympic medals captured prior to 2010, she said her achievement in Whistler exceeded even her own expectations.

After winning her fifth gold medal by a margin of more than 12 seconds in her super combined race over silver medallist Solene Jambaque of France, Woolstencroft said she "really didn't" come into the Whistler races thinking she would emerge victorious in every event.

Having faced a demanding, weather-affected schedule that required standing skiers to run five races in six days, Woolstencroft said, "I think the biggest challenge is repeating day after day. I'm mentally fried. People are yelling at me and I don't even hear them. Today I had to have one, singular focus

"I'm pretty mentally tired, but obviously I had great confidence coming in here and was super prepared. I knew I had the potential, but you just never know it's going to be that good."

Even though Woolstencroft looked calm, collected and confident throughout her dominating runs, her father's hands still shook as he watched her speed down the slopes. Mark and Dorothy Woolstencroft stood among the crowd of thousands watching the super G races on Friday (March 19), and even though their daughter wound up winning her fourth gold medal by more than five seconds, Mark said the experience of watching Lauren's relentless march to gold was still "nerve-wracking."

"Every race is a new race, and so you don't take anything for granted My hands start trembling until about five minutes after the race. But it's been very gratifying," he said.

Mark Woolstencroft noted that his daughter, who is an electrical engineer with B.C. Hydro, brings a mix of talents to the slopes, as a scientific and precise person who is also a skilled instinctive skier and a true competitor.

Dorothy said she didn't think about whether her daughter could sweep the women's standing gold medals - "I think we just take it one day at a time," she said - but it's a delight to watch her succeed, not just in skiing, but in life.

"I'm just so happy for her. She works very hard. She combines a lot of things - she works full time, she keeps a home, she skis full time - she combines a lot of very difficult occupations in one. And the fact that she can do that, how could I not be happy?"

Vancouver's Karolina Wisniewska, who in 2007 came out of her ski racing retirement to make her third trip to the Paralympics in Whistler, sped onto the women's standing podium twice alongside Woolstencroft, winning bronze medals in the slalom and super combined races.

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