How many sports are there in the Paralympic Winter Games?
With the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games taking place in two weeks, let’s take a closer look at which Para sports are included in the Paralympic Winter Games and learn more about each of those sports.
In total, there are six sports that make up the Paralympic Winter Games:
- Para alpine skiing
- Para snowboard
- Para cross-country skiing
- Para biathlon
- Para ice hockey
- Wheelchair curling
In Beijing, the six events will be held across six different venues in the competition zones of Beijing, Yanqing, and Zhangjiakou.
Para alpine skiing
Para alpine skiing will be held at the National Alpine Ski Centre in Yanqing and organisers of the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games have used 290 snow cannons to prepare the mountains at the Ski Centre for both Games.
It has taken over two months and 49 million gallons of water to ensure the slopes will be in pristine condition for the athletes and Para athletes competing. Beijing is not the only venue to rely on additional help to support their annual snowfall. Vancouver, Sochi and PyeongChang all used snow cannons to ensure the snow conditions were perfect for competitors and Beijing’s slopes will be in peak condition when the Winter Paralympics kick off.
Para alpine skiing features five disciplines:
- Super Combined
- Giant Slalom
Para athletes compete in three categories based on their functional ability, and the results calculation system allows Para athletes with different impairments to compete against each other.
At the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, 141 Para athletes from 33 countries competed in 30 different medal events. This will be the same in Beijing with 15 medal events for both male and female Para athletes. There will, however, be more slots open to Para athletes this time around, with 140 for men and 80 for women, meaning up to 220 Para athletes could compete in Para alpine skiing events in Beijing.
Look out for some superstars of Para alpine skiing including Marie Bochet from France who will be aiming to add to her impressive tally of eight Paralympic and 21 world titles in Beijing.
Jeroen Kampschreur from the Netherlands is another to watch. He became his country’s first ever Paralympic medallist when, at the age of 19, he won gold in the Super Combined event in PyeongChang.
Then of course there is our own Adam Hall who will be competing at his fifth Paralympic Winter Games, aiming to add to the gold medals he won in 2010 and 2018 in men’s Slalom – Standing. Hall will be joined in the New Zealand team by two-time Paralympian Corey Peters and Paralympic debutant Aaron Ewen who both compete using a sit-ski. All three members of the team for Beijing 2022 will be aiming to compete across both speed and technical disciplines in Para alpine skiing.
Hall had an excellent warm-up for the Paralympic Winter Games, taking home a silver medal in slalom at the World Para Snow Sports Championships in Lillehammer, so he will be targeting medals in Beijing.
Para snowboard will be held at the Genting Resort Secret Garden in the Chongli District, Zhangjiakou, and will feature two disciplines:
- Banked Slalom
Para snowboard was first introduced to the Paralympic Winter Games at Sochi 2014. In Beijing, Para snowboard will feature eight medal events across the three disciplines.
Para snowboarding was originally called Adaptive Snowboard referring to a modified version of the sport. It is now a sport that is practised by hundreds of Para athletes around the world. Para athletes compete in three categories based on their functional ability – SB-LL1 and SB-LL2 for lower-limb impaired riders and SB-UL for upper-limb impaired Para athletes.
Para athletes combine speed and agility while racing down courses as fast as possible. The sport owes its success to the determination of a group of pioneering riders who in 2005 began their quest to have the sport included at the Paralympic Winter Games.
The USA is the most successful country at Para snowboard, having collected 17 medals across the two Winter Paralympics in which Para snowboard has featured. The Netherlands is the second most successful country, collecting five medals so far, including three golds.
American Mike Schultz will be aiming to add to his medal tally in Beijing having collected three gold medals to date.
At Beijing 2022, Para biathlon will be staged at the National Biathlon Centre where 18 gold medals will be up for grabs.
Para biathlon consists of two disciplines – cross country skiing and shooting. It was introduced to the Paralympic Games in Innsbruck in 1988 for athletes with a physical impairment, and in 1992, athletes with a visual impairment also became eligible to compete.
Para biathlon is one of the most fascinating and fun sports to watch at the Paralympic Winter Games. It demands laser focus, physical strength, and pinpoint accuracy.
Para biathletes with physical impairments compete in two categories – sitting and standing – while those with vision impairments compete in one category and can be supported by a guide.
Since Para biathlon was first introduced to the Games in 1988, there has been a total of 95 medals awarded in the sport and nineteen countries have won at least one medal in biathlon at the Paralympic Winter Games.
The events consist of a 2.0 or 2.5 km course skied three or five times in the free technique for a total race distance between 6-15 km, depending on whether it is the short, medium, or long distance race.
Between the two stages, athletes must hit two targets located at a distance of 10m. Each miss is penalised by an increase in the overall route time.
Para cross-country skiing
Para cross-country skiing and Para biathlon both fall under the Para Nordic skiing bracket and Para cross-country skiing will also be held at the National Biathlon Centre in Beijing.
Para cross-country skiing made its Paralympic debut in the first ever games in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden in 1976.
Para cross-country skiers can compete in individual or team, classical or freestyle events ranging from 2.5km to 20km in distance. Visually-impaired skiers compete with a guide while those with a physical impairment compete using either a sit-ski or standing using one or two skis and/or poles.
At the Pyeongchang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, 155 Para athletes from 30 countries competed in 20 different medal events. The medal event programme will be unchanged for Beijing 2022 with 38 gold medals up for grabs – 18 for men, 18 for women and two mixed events. Like Para alpine skiing, the athlete quota has increased for the Para Nordic skiing events, with 120 slots available for men and 90 for women – up from 100 and 60 respectively.
Para ice hockey
Para ice hockey will be held at the National Indoor Stadium – a venue that hosted Wheelchair basketball at the Beijing 2008 Summer Paralympic Games. There will be a total of eight teams competing in Para ice hockey in Beijing and the USA will be aiming to win a fourth consecutive gold medal at the Winter Paralympics.
Para ice hockey made its debut at the Lillehammer 1994 Paralympic Winter Games and since then, it has quickly established itself as one of the most popular sports at the Paralympic Winter Games. It is fast-paced, highly physical and played by male and female athletes with a physical impairment in the lower part of the body.
Formerly known as ice sledge hockey, Para ice hockey players use double-blade sledges instead of skates that allow the puck to pass beneath. Players use two sticks, which have a spike-end for pushing and a blade-end for shooting. Therefore, with a quick flip of the wrist, the players can propel themselves using the spikes and then play the puck using the blade-end of the sticks. A player may use two sticks with blades to facilitate stick handling and ambidextrous shooting.
Whilst the USA is the most successful team at Para ice hockey, six countries have collected medals in the sport since its introduction and Norway and Canada also sit on a total of five medals along with the USA. Sweden, Japan, and Russia are the other nations to have picked up medals in Para ice hockey.
At Beijing 2022, Wheelchair curling will take place in the Water Cube which staged Para swimming at Beijing 2008.
Wheelchair curling made its Paralympic debut at the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games and in PyeongChang in 2018, the event was successfully expanded and featured teams from twelve countries.
Wheelchair curling is played similarly to able-bodied curling using the same rocks and on the same ice, although the rocks are thrown from a stationary wheelchair and there is no sweeping. Each team must be comprised of male and female players.
The sport is now practiced in 24 countries. While there are no current New Zealand Para athletes competing in Wheelchair curling, there could be opportunities to try it out at your local Curling Club.
Wheelchair curling is particularly significant for the host nation China. In PyeongChang, China won their first ever Winter Paralympics gold medal in Wheelchair curling.
There has been significant investment in Para sport in China in the build up to Beijing 2022. They will be hoping that home support will give them an advantage and they will add to their Wheelchair curling gold this time around.
Find out more about Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.