Two outstanding visually impaired skiers are to be inducted into the Visa Paralympic Hall of Fame during the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has announced.
Spanish skier Eric Villalón Fuentes and German skier Verena Bentele are among three inductees who will join the prestigious Hall of Fame at a ceremony during the upcoming Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. American cross-country skiing coach Jon Kreamelmeyer is the third inductee.
With this latest induction coinciding with the Sochi 2014 Games, only athletes and coaches involved in winter sports were considered.
Eric Villalon represented Spain in three Paralympic Winter Games from 1998-2006 as a visually impaired skier. He won five golds, three silvers and a bronze, making him Spain's most successful winter Paralympian of all-time. From 2000-2004, he also won five world titles and a bronze medal.
Since retiring from competition he has become an ambassador for Play and Train, an international organisation with the objective of providing access to the practice, learning and training of leisure and elite sport activities for people with an impairment.
Villalon said: "Having the opportunity and the pleasure to receive this valuable award represents for me the culmination and recognition of a job well done by many people who have worked with me. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to practice the sport that I love, and thank you all for believing in me."
Verena Bentele is the most successful female biathlete of all-time and the second most successful cross-country skier. In four Paralympic Winter Games she won 12 golds, two silver and two bronze medals in the visually impaired class.
She saved her best for last by winning five golds in as many events at the Vancouver 2010 Games. After Vancouver, she retired at age 29 and in 2011 was named Best Female at the Paralympic Sport Awards and won the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability award.
Bentele said: "I feel very honoured to be inducted to the Visa Paralympic Hall of Fame. Sport has taught the most important lesson of my life: With an uncompromising will to win, persistence and hard work, you can overcome every hurdle and reach the goal you want to achieve. Being inducted into the Hall of Fame will keep this lesson alive whenever a challenge crosses my way."
Launched in 2006, by founding partner Visa, the Paralympic Hall of Fame aims to recognise retired athletes and coaches who have a track record of excellent athletic performance, history of fair play and participation in community activities.
The IPC received nominations from members of the public and the IPC membership for the Hall of Fame, and the IPC Governing Board was asked to vote on who they felt should be inducted.
Sir Philip Craven, IPC President said: "I would like to congratulate Eric, Jon and Verena on their induction in the Visa Paralympic Hall of Fame.
"The Hall of Fame features only the best athletes, coaches and role models in the world. They will join an elite group of people as the Visa Paralympic Hall of Fame only features 16 other inductees."
"Visa is proud to recognise the incredible accomplishments of these talented Paralympians and help to share their inspiring stories as the founding partner of the Visa Paralympic Hall of Fame," said Ricardo Fort, Senior Vice President of Global Sponsorship marketing for Visa, Inc.
"Eric, Jon and Verena have each made tremendous contributions to the Paralympic Movement and we are privileged to honour them with this induction."
Athletic performance, fair play, a contribution to a team or team spirit and behaviour away from the field of play were all vital factors in the decision process.
Only those who had competed in two Paralympic Winter Games, had won medals as an athlete or coach and had not competed since the Vancouver Games were considered for induction.
Muffy Davis, an American Paralympic champion in both alpine skiing and cycling, will be the Master of Ceremonies for the induction event from 9:30-11:00 (MSK) on 8 March.
The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games
will be held from March 7th to 16th.