The Riverina's Josh Hanlon has left his mark at the 2022 Winter Paralympics narrowly missing a top-10 finish on debut in the giant slalom in Beijing.
The 24-year-old capped a remarkable rise from former promising local footballer to genuine Paralympics contender when he sat atop the mountain at the Yanquing National Alpine Skiing Centre and unleashed his first run in the sit-skiing competition.
Hanlon was applauded by the commentators for confident skiing as he brought the no-holds-barred attitude he promised, despite deteriorating conditions in unusually warm conditions in China.
On a course with a particularly steep first six gates and ruts developing, a clean run was required to advance to the second run. Six of the 40 competitors crashed out or failed to finish.
Hanlon wasn't one of them. He clocked one minute, 6.60 seconds. It was the 13th quickest of the day at the point and had him 14th overall after every competitor's first run.
The decisive second run was held in reverse finishing order, setting up the fastest first-run skiers to compete last.
Hanlon clocked an impressive 1.03.21 despite a couple of wobbles. It was a time that put him third overall at that point, but facing an anxious wait with the fastest dozen rivals still to come.
He was gradually pushed down the standings as a number of the world's best held their nerve in their second runs, led by Norway's defending champion Jesper Pedersen who claimed his third gold medal in Beijing after a 56.29s run.
When all was said and done, Hanlon placed 10th in his second run lifting him from 14th to 11th overall with a combined time of 2.09.81.
"It was great fun. First run I was definitely a bit nervous and a bit frozen up but the second run I let it run a bit more and went a bit better I think," Hanlon said.
"For sure, I can't be happier than to finish those two runs and be not too bad."
His Australian teammate, the experienced Sam Tait, 30, finished 22nd (2.16.40).
"It was really good fun. I'm always training with him and joking around about who's going to beat who in different events but I think I got him by a bit today. I won't let that slide," he said.
Another seven competitors failed to complete a second run at all.
It's an incredible achievement for Hanlon who left Australia just over three months ago on a wing and a prayer.
The boy from Weethalle travelled to Europe as a 'development' athlete hoping to get a start at major events and dreaming that he might make his way into the Australian national para alpine skiing team.
He rocketed into Paralympics contention after strong efforts at world cup events (where he'd been given a wildcard entry) earned him a shot at the world championships, where he had two top 10 finishes.
Hanlon, who will also compete in the slalom event on Sunday, went to the Games considered a long term project by the sport's hierarchy in Australia but showed with his short term improvement that he's already capable of breathing down the necks of the top echelon.
"With a bit more confidence and not being so nervous I think I could've been heaps quicker than that," Hanlon said after his debut event.
"I don't think you can prepare yourself for the nerves that come along with being on such a big stage. But it's been great fun and everyone's been a really good help... basically everyone else on the team has been to the Games so their help and advice this season has been awesome."
Hanlon offered a warm thanks for all the support he's experienced along the way and said it's been in the back of his mind at every training session and competition.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.