The thoughts of crunching ice under foot and snow-crystal filled air seemed a remote possibility in early January as again the Alps were not blessed with much snow and elements of the Alpine Championships at Serre Chevalier looked under severe threat. But as time got near the snow held up and the conditions were set for this year’s EXERCISE LION’S CHALLENGE in what is the Army Winter Sports Association’s 70th anniversary year (AWSA). Over 100 of the best Army racers competed for honours, both individual and team testing their wits, skill and courage in all disciplines from the highly technical Slalom through Giant Slalom (GS), Super GS and the heart-stopping Downhill.
The weather was mostly good and due to an unfortunate programming clash with the UK Armed Service’s Championships meant the preselected Army men’s and women’s teams were already committed at Meribel. The whooping and elation was palpable from the teams as suddenly this opened the door for the best-of-the-rest to take to the podium! In reality, it detracted nothing from the thrills, spills or indeed quality of the racing and it created a fantastic opportunity for new blood to earn their spurs. LCpl James OLDHAM from 1 LANCS became the rising star; winning four of six events (including the Downhill in 1:29.43). He was crowned overall Individual Army Champion alongside Capt Rebecca RITCHIE from 25 Regt RLC whose steady racing throughout the week and spectacular result in the Super GS garnered her the overall Ladies Individual Army Championship trophy. Of note were LCpl Sheona MACMILLAN from 170 Inf Sp Engr Gp who won two races and Pte Amy BROOKMAN from 158 Regt RLC who won the much coveted Ladies Downhill race in 1:36.52. The overall Team Champions were 4 REME and the Corps winner was the Infantry which was worthy reflection of the investment that the infantry has made in winter sports.
Not to be eclipsed, the various athletes from the Armed Forces Para Snowsport Team (AFPST) also hurtled down the courses showing tremendous guts and skill before taking time out to provide some hands-on introduction to the many VIPs on the sort of skills required to be an adaptive skier including visually impaired skiing, single skiing and sit skiing. A number of these athletes aspire to be representing GB at the PyeongChang Paralympic Games in 2018.
Running in tandem with the racing was the AWSA’s and Team Army presented visitor’s programme which gave sponsors and visitors an opportunity to join the action close-up along with meeting and supporting the many racers.
‘Dine-with-a-team’ became a new feature of the event where sponsors were given the opportunity to be hosted to a dinner prepared by the racers. Teams lined up to be selected for the ‘master-chef-like’ challenge and by all accounts they excelled in producing some amazing fare for their chosen visiting sponsors. It went down well (both food and concept!) allowing sponsors to engage with the soldiers and identify with respective teams and racers during the week.
The Championships again displayed the best of sport in the Army and, as always, to be able to stage such an event it needed significant resources and support; sponsorship is a key element of the mix that makes this possible. So a huge thank you to our incredibly generous sponsors, many of whom witnessed the event first hand, and congratulations to each and every brave competitor!
Images courtesy of Laura Dale Photography