Patriotic purpose for Camperdown Paralympian at Sochi

He retired, then declared a last-minute comeback.

Now Camperdown Paralympian Cameron Rahles-Rahbula will carry the flag for Australia in tomorrow’s opening ceremony for the Sochi Winter Games.

The downhill skier was announced as flag bearer on Tuesday night in front of the 11-strong Australian squad, coaches and officials.

UPDATE: Camperdown Paralympian remains flagbearer despite injury

For the 30-year-old, the honour will mark his fourth and final Games of a 12-year career, highlighted by two bronze medals in Vancouver four years ago.

That achievement earned him the right to carry his country’s flag at the 2010 closing ceremony.

But Rahles-Rahbula admitted he had no idea he’d be considered to open the proceedings this time around.

“It wasn’t something I was expecting — I was just rapt to be here to be honest,” he said at the formal team reception in the Sochi mountain village of Rosa Khutor.

“The team has been a great support for me and to be able to say farewells on the big stage, that was really the goal.”

Five months ago, Sochi wasn’t even on the cards for Rahles-Rahbula, who had announced his retirement to spend more time with his wife Emily and two-year-old son Archie.

But after a convincing gold and silver medal at what was to be his final competition — September’s IPC World Cup meet in Thredbo — the Australian Paralympic Committee cajoled him back into the team. His acceptance came on the condition he could remain at home in Geelong for the summer before meeting the team in Europe two weeks ago.

With only one World Cup event under his belt last week, Rahles-Rahbula knows consistency will be his biggest challenge against athletes who have been on the tour for three months.

“It is an unpredictable sport and I’m probably going to be the most unpredictable,” he said.

But he said at least his family would be there to witness it.

“Whether I come away with a medal or fall on my arse, I’ll be happy,” he said.

“Because I’m going to have my little boy here. I know he won’t remember it but I’ll remember having him screaming from the side.”

Rahles-Rahbula, who lost his left leg to a rare form of bone cancer at 14, is the only remaining member from the triumphant 2002 Australian team that won seven medals in Salt Lake City, including six gold.

Australian Chef de Mission Chris Nunn said his selection was recognition of an outstanding athlete who had represented Australia at the highest level for more than decade.

“He embodies what it takes to be an Australian Paralympian,” Nunn said. “He is someone that every athlete on our team looks up to.”

The Paralympic team began training yesterday before the Games kick off  tomorrow.

It is expected about 780 athletes from 45 countries will compete. 

AAP

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