Paul DiBello makes it look easy, but it isn't. Two years ago, the Conway car mechanic and double amputee below the knees swept into Switzerland as an unknown quantity and captured four gold medals in the World Disabled Skiing Championship.This year at the World Winter Games for the Handicapped in Innsbruck, Austria, January 14 through 20, he did it again; For an unprecedented second time, he captured all four gold medals for the slalom, giant slalom, downhill, and the overall title.
Paul's efforts led the U.S. Handicapped Alpine Ski Team to a second place finish behind the Austrians. Two years ago, the U.S. team finished first.
Back in Mt. Washington Valley this week, Paul noted that the international competition was tough. "The level of handicapped skiing has taken a big jump. The Austrian and Swiss teams have been training on the glaciers for the past three months with their national teams," he said.
His competition was especially gunning for him, as there was no question that in his category, he was the one to beat. "The Austrians trained especially hard to go after me," Paul said, "but, I had an indea of just about how fast I needed to go in each race to win."
Due ot his confidence, Paul skied conservatively in both the slalom and giant slalom. He also took into account the fact that, though he had weight-trained extensively prior to the event, the early season date of the World Winter Games did not give him much pre-race skiing time. "I really felt the early date hurt all of us," said Paul. "A number of our racers made mental errors that more training would have eliminated."
Paul felt that he was skiing at three-fourths his capacity with only two days of real slalom training before heading to Europe. "We all felt it was a strategic move on the part of the Austrians to hold the games so early," he said.
Though other American racers may have suffered, Paul triumphed. He won his division by three and one-half seconds in the giant slalom, overcame a bad first run that left him with only 8/100ths of a second lead to take the slalom, and went all out in the downhill, just missing a personal best time.
Paul did receive a disappointment at the World Winter Games, however. For months leading up to the Games (which are the equivalent of the Olympics for the handicapped), the athletes were under the impression that the 30 fastest skiers in the giant slalom, regardless of their division, would be chosen to go to Sarajevo to ski in an exhibition race during the Olympic Games. At a press conference January 9th, just prior to their departure for Europe, the United States team was informed that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had decided no women and no blind skiers would be on the team. "Understandably, it caused quite a furor," said Paul.
Later, the athletes were informed that the decision of who would be representing the handicapped athletes had actually be made by the IOC more than three months earlier. In an umpopular "political" decision, the committee was nviting only amputees with visible handicaps. The ISOD (International Sports of the Disabled) committee protested, but no no avail. In essence, we were told, "When you're invited to a cocktail party, you're not asked to write the guest list," said Paul.
"I was disappointed about not getting to go," he added, "but it is a good first step for the handicapped organization. Some athletes wanted to boycott but we squelched that. I comes down to the fact that we are real happy we were asked to go but disappointed that it won't be a true cross-section of the handicapped."
Paul, who is extremely well known throughout Europe for his skiing triumphs, returned to Conway at 3 a.m. Tuesday and was back at work at the Saco Valley Garage by 8 a.m. "It is a bit of a let-down after all the excitement in Europe," he said. "The Austrians put on quite a show in the opening and closing ceremonies of the games. The awards were given in the Olympic Ice Arena, which has a presence you could feel."
His four new gold medals will be added to the case which holds his other trophies, but Paul does not plan to rest on his laurels. "People have suggested that I should quit while I'm ahead," he said, "but I have no intention of retiring." Future plans include attending the U.S. Nationals with the hope of sweeping those and competing in the Canadian Nationals with the same plan. "Taking the four golds in international competition, then sweeping both the U.S. and Canadian Nationals is something that has never been done before," Paul explained. "I feel I have that potential."