THE Sochi Winter Olympics has attracted a lot of unsavoury headlines in recent months, but next to nothing will tarnish the fairytale for High Wycombe’s Ben Sneesby.
The 19-year-old mono skier will compete in his first ever Paralympics from March 7-19 after 18 months of almost unprecedented progression.
He has spent most of that time competing around the world in a bid to hit the qualifying mark in both slalom and giant slalom.
And, having achieved both goals, he could now represent Team GB in Super G as well.
He said: “The last couple of weeks have been amazing.
“I was in America training the day we were told if we’d made it. I didn’t want to be sat at home waiting for the phone so I went out training.
“When I got back there were three missed calls so I took a deep breath and phoned them back.
“It was the performance director and he asked how I was and what I’d been doing. He was just chatting but I knew what the phone call was about and I thought, ‘I don’t need small talk, just tell me the news.’ “As soon as I put the phone down I phoned my mum and dad. They were so happy and my mum started crying down the phone.
“It didn’t feel real though. I was in America with one other teammate and he didn’t get selected so it was a bit weird.
“I was with him for two or three days afterwards. We’re all teammates so I was disappointed for him, but he seemed genuinely pleased that I was going and said I deserved it and had skied well.”
From America, Sneesby flew to Glasgow for the official team launch in front of the media and he admits that only then did it start to sink in.
He said: “We were all so tired and not really sure what was happening.
“But they introduced the athletes to the media one by one and we all went up on stage and they were saying, ‘well done, you’re going to Russia’, and I thought, ‘yeah, I am.”
“That’s the moment it sank in.
“Then I went up to my room and there was our kit. There were two suitcases all labelled up with Team GB, Sochi 2014.
“It was amazing. I didn’t try it all on because there was just so much but I tried on one of each thing thinking, ‘I’m going to be wearing this at the Paralympics in a few weeks.’”
Sneesby, who might also have represented his country at basketball before settling on skiing, has come an awful long way in a short space of time.
He was first introduced to the sport at adaptive sessions on Wycombe’s dry slopes, but his natural talent shone through and he was rushed into the newly-created Junior Development Team at the age of 15.
That was a pit stop to the full British Disabled Ski Team, but even then he was a long way from the Paralympics and it’s only the vertical learning curve he’s been on in the past year that got him over the line, ahead of some far more experienced teammates.
He said: “I don’t know what to think. Everyone has been saying they’re so happy for me and when I’ve been out in town people have been coming up to congratulate me. I feel like a celebrity.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m proud of myself for what I’ve achieved – coming from Wycombe and starting on the dry ski slope, building it up slowly and then in the last 18 months really going for it, giving it everything mentally and physically and seeing people on the circuit sit up and take notice.
“These are people from Canada or America who have been skiing longer than I’ve been alive.
“They’re my competitors and it’s amazing hearing it from them because they realise how much I’ve put into it and how much I’ve improved.
“And now I’m going go to the Games – it’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was six or seven years old.”
But is a medal realistic?
He said: “I’m not putting any pressure on myself. I will just go there and do my best. Once I get in the gate I will just focus on myself and go down the hill as fast as I can and see what happens.”
Sneesby, who has been appointed British Athletes’ Representative during the Games, flies to Austria next week for the last batch of competitive races before joining Team GB for a 20-day holding camp ahead of Sochi.