Paralympic Winter Games begin this Friday
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Brock is an Olympics television producer for the CBC and freelance writer for The Expositor.
BEIJING—On Friday, just weeks after the Olympics left town, 700 more of the world’s best athletes will converge on China, when the Paralympics take over Beijing. While the event may be smaller in scale, with fewer events and fewer athletes than the Olympic Games, the spirit of sport remains. The quality of the competition, and the height of the stakes is on par with the Olympic Games. The Paralympics is another chance for Canadians to root for the best of us. Make no mistake, these are world class athletes who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of excellence.
Here are a few notes to get you primed for the Paras!
The term “Paralympics” uses the Greek term “para,” which means, basically, “beside.”It befits the commitment that these Games run parallel to the Olympics. The Olympic and Paralympic movements are in lock step and share the same values and mandates.
The first instance of a “Paralympic” competition coincided with the Opening Ceremony of the 1948 Olympic Games in London, England. It was a wheelchair competition organized for injured soldiers, called the Stoke Mandeville Games. The first actual Summer Paralympic Games were held in Rome in 1960.
The first Winter Paralympic Games were hosted by Sweden in 1976. Since Albertville in 1992, the Paralympics have been held on the same sites as the Winter Olympic Games.
The International Paralympic Committee was founded in 1989, and its first president was a Canadian, Dr. Robert Steadward.
This year, in Beijing, there will be 78 different medal events, spread over 6 different sports: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, sled hockey and wheelchair curling.
Canada is sending 49 athletes, including four guides.
Cross country skier Brian McKeever is Canada’s most decorated Paralympian with 17 medals, including 13 Gold. McKeever will be competing in his sixth Paralympic Games. In 2002, 2006 and 2010, McKeever’s brother Robin served as his guide (you may have seen the commercials). This time around, McKeever will be guided by 2018 Canadian Cross-Country Olympian Russell Kennedy.
Billy Bridges—with three medals—is also heading to his sixth Games as a member of Canada’s Para ice hockey team. Bridges is the husband of long time Canadian hockey goaltender Sami-Jo Small.
Mark Ideson returns as Team Canada’s wheelchair curling skip. He took up the sport after suffering a spinal injury in a helicopter crash in 2007. Since then, he has helped Canada to a Gold Medal in Sochi and a Bronze in Pyeongchang four years ago.
Mollie Jepsen won four medals in Para Alpine at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018. She returns for Beijing.
The Canadian Para ice hockey squad will be looking to loosen the American grip on Gold Medals. The US have won each of the last four Paralympic Gold Medals, including a thrilling OT final against the Canadians in 2018.
Para hockey player Liam Hickey also appeared in the 2016 Summer Paralympics with Canada’s wheelchair basketball Team. These will be his second Winter Games.
Mark Arendz was Canada’s most successful Paralympian in Pyeongchang, winning 6 medals in biathlon and cross-country skiing, and he returns this time, looking for more. These will be his fourth Games.
Competing in his third Games, Sault Ste. Marie’s Mac Marcoux has already won five Paralympic medals across the Alpine disciplines.
Classifications for the athletes are based on the type and level of their impairment to the physical activity of their sport. In sports like Alpine, athletes with different classifications are able to compete against each other with the use of an algorithm that alters the clock based on the advantage/disadvantages for each classification.
For 10 days, the competition will be intense and entertaining. The stories of these athletes will inspire you. The Paralympics are not a consolation prize. They are a movement that highlights possibilities and overcomes limitations. The competitors are world class in every sense of the word, and I encourage you to cheer on Canada’s great sporting ambassadors.
CBC will have daily coverage of the Paralympics from Beijing, starting with the Opening Ceremony on Friday, March 4 at 6 am. Check your local listings, or go to cbc.ca for live streaming times.