Today marks the beginning of one of the biggest sporting events in the world: the Winter Paralympic Games!
This is the second-largest parasport event, following only the Summer Paralympics.
At the last Winter Paralympics—in Pyeongchang 2018—Canada finished third overall with 28 medals: 8 gold, 4 silver, and 16 bronze. What's in store for the nation this time around? Let's check out some of the athletes to watch!
Before we do, we're going to take a quick look at what the Paralympics are. The Paralympics are a multi-sports event that features athletes with physical disabilities or visual impairments. There are two types—Summer and Winter—and each one happens once every four years.
To increase the level of competition, there are different categories of disabilities—this ensures that athletes are matched against those with similar capacities. In addition, there are further levels of each categories to keep things fair. These levels are known as classifications.
Athlete 1: Mollie Jepsen, para-alpine skier
How great is Mollie Jepsen? So great that she captured four medals in Pyeongchang—gold, silver, and two bronze. And that was all as an 18-year-old! Now four years later, an older, wiser, and more determined Jepsen is ready to strike gold again.
Her arrival in Beijing has not been without complications, though. After 2018, she missed an entire season due to a bout with Crohn's disease, which affects digestion and can lead to severe exhaustion and weight loss. She also lost a lot of competing time to the pandemic. But anyone who doubted Jepsen was put in their place recently. She returned to World Cup racing and finished in the top three skiers in her first six races! Watch for her to be on fire in China.
Athlete 2: Brian McKeever, para-nordic skier
Para-nordic, or cross-country, skiing is all about balance and strength. Over a long career, Brian McKeever has proven he has those qualities. We're talking about 13 gold, 2 silver, and 2 bronze medals across five Paralympics.
Now 42 years old, McKeever has announced that this will be his final Games. Can he go out on top and add even more medals to the 17 he already owns? No matter what happens, Beijing will be a worthy send off for one of the greatest Winter Paralympians that Canada—or any country—has ever produced. Also worth keeping an eye on in para-nordic skiing? Brittany Hudak, who recently captured four gold medals at a World Cup event in Alberta!
Athlete 3: The entire men's para-hockey team!
You don't need to be reminded that Canada is a hockey nation. (We're STILL buzzing over the performance of the women's national hockey team last month!) So it makes sense that the men's para-hockey team will be a huge focus at these Games. Adding fuel to the fire? The fact that Canada has only once won gold in this event.
The last final—at the 2018 Games—was especially heartbreaking with Canada losing 2–1 in overtime to the United States. Now, led by returning player and captain, Tyler Mcgregor, Canada's team is eager to follow in the footsteps of women like Marie-Philip Poulin and Sarah Nurse and turn the maple leaf's red to gold.
And if you want to learn more about the mind of a top para-athlete, revisit our 2018 interview with Canadian para-alpine skier Erin Latimer!
Russia and Belarus banned
One other final note as the Games begin. Just yesterday, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced that both Russia and Belarus were being banned from the events. This is in response to the current invasion by Russia of Ukraine (Belarus is an ally of Russia in this war).
At first, the IPC said that athletes from both countries would only be able to participate as neutral athletes—no anthems, no national colours, no references to their home countries. They did not want to punish the athletes who had trained so hard for a war that they did not start.
But it quickly became clear that many athletes from other countries were refusing to participate if Russians or Belarusians were allowed to compete in any fashion. So less than a day later, they reversed their decision and banned the two countries. There will be a Ukrainian team of 20 para-athletes competing at these Games in various events.