Chris Williamson was born in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1972 to Pamela and Peter Williamson. He was born with no vision in his right eye due to macular degeneration caused by toxoplasmosis. By the time Chris was six years old, he only had peripheral vision in his left eye and registered with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. His condition eventually stabilized at six percent peripheral vision in his left eye.
Despite his visual impairment, Chris was very active in sports. “My parents encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do. They didn’t cushion me or worry that my disability would affect me at all,” he told Adecco Canada in March 2014. Chris started skiing at age three and became passionate about the sport. He also participated in judo, hockey, speed skating, football, basketball and baseball while growing up.
Chris’s parents eventually separated and established new families, and Chris became an older brother to four siblings. His mother and step-father, Harold, have a daughter (Elanna), while his father and step-mother, Lori, had three children together (sons Tyler and Reece and daughter Elizabeth).
Chris’s father, Peter, was a high performance Canadian speed skater and cyclist who represented Canada in cycling at the 1967 Pan American Games in Winnipeg and in speed skating at the 1968 Olympic Winter Games in Grenoble. Following his career as an athlete, Peter Williamson was the technical director for the Canadian Amateur Speed Skating Association. He also coached cyclists in Manitoba, including Olympian Clara Hughes. His wife, Lori, was a speed skating coach in Manitoba and the former executive director of the Manitoba Speed Skating Association. Peter passed away on 7 July 1991 at the age of 44 of a brain aneurysm. His widow, Lori, later married firefighter Jeff Derraugh.
Speed Skating Siblings
As a teenager, Chris wanted to become a high performance speed skater and follow in the footsteps of his father. At age 14, he competed in long track speed skating at the 1987 Canada Winter Games in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, but retired from speed skating soon after the Games because he broke his ankle and leg.
His siblings are heavily involved in speed skating. Reece Williamson Derraugh represented Manitoba in short track speed skating at the 2007 Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse, Yukon, and in 2011 joined Speed Skating Canada as an equipment technician. Tyler Williamson Derraugh won a silver medal in the men’s team pursuit at the 2015 World Single Distance Speed Skating Championships in Heerenveen, the Netherlands. He retired from competition that year and became technical director and provincial coach of the Manitoba Speed Skating Association. Elizabeth Williamson Derraugh became the organization’s executive director in 2016.
In 1997, Chris Williamson graduated from the University of Manitoba with a degree in economics. He returned to skiing after graduation and started to win competitions that year. He was soon asked to join Ontario Skiing for the Disabled, a regional team that competed in events across the country. His success on the slopes attracted the attention of the national team, and in 1999 he joined the Canadian Disabled Alpine Ski Team.
In his first World Cup season (1998–99), Williamson won five medals for Canada, including three gold medals: a giant slalom gold in Bürchen, Switzerland, and a super giant slalom and slalom gold in Wildschönau, Austria. He won four more World Cup gold medals in 1999–2000 and six more World Cup gold medals in 2000–01.
On 6 March 2002, a day before the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Paralympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Williamson agreed to ski for a television crew that wanted footage of him in action. He was considered a strong contender for Paralympic gold, having won a World Cup giant slalom race in Kimberley, British Columbia, in late February. During the filming session, Williamson fell and tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. Although doctors told Williamson that he would probably be unable to compete, he insisted on being fitted for a knee brace.
Williamson did not compete in the downhill and struggled in the super giant slalom and giant slalom. However, on 16 March he won the gold medal in the slalom with a time of 1:53.65, beating silver medalist Andy Parr of the United States by 1.66 seconds.
During the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games in Turin, Williamson broke his ankle during training. Despite this, he won a silver in the downhill and a bronze in the super giant slalom. He was in a wheelchair for the closing ceremonies. Williamson competed in three events at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, but did not win any medals, just missing the podium in both the super combined and the giant slalom. He suffered another serious injury in the lead-up to the 2014 Games in Sochi, breaking his left leg in August 2013. However, he recovered and won his fourth Paralympic medal — a bronze medal in the slalom — seven months later.
World Cup Titles
Williamson dominated the Paralympic World Cup circuit in alpine skiing, winning a remarkable 57 gold medals and 105 medals in total between 2003 and 2013. This included seven gold medals over a span of only five days (7 to 11 January 2008) at a World Cup in Abtenau, Austria. On 11 January 2011, Williamson became the first skier in the history of the IPC to win 100 World Cup medals, when he won a gold medal in a giant slalom race in Italy. Over the course of his 17-year career, he won 14 individual World Cup titles and 8 Crystal Globes, which are awarded to the overall champion of the season.
Williamson also won 14 medals in total at the IPC World Alpine Championships, including two gold medals: in the men’s super giant slalom in 2009 and in the men’s super combined in 2013. He also won three silver medals and nine bronze world championship medals over during his career.
At the time of his retirement from skiing in 10 April 2015, Williamson was recognized as “the most decorated competitor” on the Canadian para-alpine ski team. He was inducted into the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons Hall of Fame in 2014.