The Simpson brothers on making history at their Paralymic skiing debut

In March, the 19-year-old – guided by his brother, Andrew – became Team GB’s third-ever Winter Games gold medalist after clocking just 1:08.9 seconds in the men’s visually-impaired Super-G at Beijing.

They added a bronze in the Super Combined event the following day.

Making their Paralympic debut, the pair say they were thrilled with the result, but admit they weren’t aiming for a medal.

Neil Simpson and brother Andrew en route to winning bronze in the Para Alpine Skiing Men’s Super Combined Slalom Vision Impaired at Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Center during day three of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

“Coming into it, we were just trying to make the most of the experience and learn as much as we could,” says Neil.

“We just tried to put any expectations from external sources to the side and learn as much as possible to help us in the future – a gold wasn’t really in our expectations.”

Andrew, who turned 22 on the last day of the Winter Games, adds: “[The Super-G] was the day after the downhill and, while we skied well in that, we probably hadn’t been attacking it enough. And so that day, we were just trying not to leave anything behind and just do everything that we could. If we did that, we would be happy.”

He laughs: “That’s exactly what we did and it turned out to be a gold.”

With their success still sinking in, the triumphant brothers have returned to their home town of Banchory, Aberdeenshire, where they have been greeted with congratulations from friends and family.

It was thanks to going on early-childhood family skiing holidays – the French Alps being a favorite with the Simpsons – that their passion was ignited.

The enthusiastic youngsters both joined Aberdeenshire-based ski racing club the Gordon Skiers and trained at The Lecht and Glenshee Ski Centre, before venturing further afield to destinations across Europe to enhance their talent.

Prior to the Winter Games, Neil’s flair was demonstrated at the 2021 Para Alpine World Cup in Austria and in this year’s World Para Snow Sports Championships in Norway.

The 2020 BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year nominee competes in the B3 classification category, having been born with nystagmus – a condition that causes involuntary eye movements.

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“I have to rely on my other senses that bit more because of my vision,” Neil explains.

“In the course inspection, I try to memorize the course as much as possible, the snow conditions at various points, the terrain and how that is moving about. When we are skiing, I have to try and be more accurate with my movements and be calm to react to the forces going through me that bit more.

“With Andrew, he relays up-to-date information back to me if there is anything different from the course inspection.”

Neil feels that having his brother by his side is an added boost, believing they can communicate with each other more effectively than other, non-sibling, athlete-guide pairings. He says their close bond allows them to better understand and approach situations, and to “deliver on actions a lot more easily”.

According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), there are almost two million people in the UK with sight problems that impact on their daily lives.

For anyone who has a vision impairment but is considering hitting the slopes at one of Scotland’s 21 ski centres, Neil advises: “It is a learning experience, but just try and go in with an open mind and take as much away from it as you dog. Just try and enjoy it. As with every sport, it has its challenges – but it is definitely enjoyable.”

Next on the Simpsons’ horizon is the 2023 World Para Snow Sports Championships in Sweden, and despite their recent triumph, the skiing siblings remain humble.

“Going into the Winter Games with an open mind was definitely the right way of doing it,” maintains Andrew. “We just said we were going to try and ski our best but not focus on achieving the podium or anything like that.

“Going into any other major events, we will try and go in with the same mind set, so if we get anything then great but if we don’t, it is nothing to stress about.”

Neil adds: “We have quite a bit of time between now and next January or February, so a lot can change.

“We will focus on the training ahead during the summer and start of the winter, then see where we are at with our skiing.

“Carrying over what we are doing in training is something I am definitely looking to do more and more. To just have a clear focus to work on, either technical or tactical, and carrying that into the Games definitely helped to gather the nerves and have a very clear approach.

He concludes: “The whole atmosphere of the Games was incredible. Treating it as any other race is what really helped me and something I will try going forward at other major events.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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