Beijing Paralympics set to begin in shadow of war, Covid-19
The 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympics will begin on Friday, with more than 600 of the world's best Paralympic athletes from 51 countries competing in 78 events across six sports.
Team Korea will send an 82-member delegation, including 32 athletes who will be competing in all 78 events.
The events will be staged at six venues in the three competition locations: Central Beijing, the Beijing district of Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province.
Beijing is the first city to host both the summer and winter Paralympics, with two venues — the National Indoor Stadium for para ice hockey and the National Aquatic Centre for wheelchair curling — being legacy venues from the 2008 Olympics and Paralympics.
The Korean Paralympic team will be aiming to win two bronze medals in Beijing.
Team Korea's strengths are in wheelchair curling, cross country and alpine skiing.
The Korean wheelchair curling team is currently ranked at No. 5 in the world. At the PyeongChang Games the team narrowly missed out on a medal, losing 5-3 to Canada in the bronze medal match, but a new squad this year is looking for a podium finish.
Korean skiers are also heading to the Games in good form after winning two medals at the World Para Snow Sports Championships this January.
Cross country skier Sin Eui-hyun won the silver medal in the men's sitting long race, with alpine skier Choi Sa-ra winning the bronze medal in the women's vision impaired super combined.
Sin is Korea's only Paralympic gold medalist. He won Korea's first ever medal at the PyeongChang Games, winning bronze in the men's 15-kilometer sitting cross-country skiing, and then made history by finishing first in the men's 7.5-kilometer sitting cross-country skiing, becoming the only Korean with two medals from the Winter Paralympics.
Korea won one gold and two bronze medals at the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympic Games. The other bronze medal was won in para ice hockey.
At the winter Paralympics, Korea has a total of one gold medal, two silver medals and two bronze medals since first competing at the 1992 France Para Games.
The Summer Paralympic Games first took place in Rome, Italy in 1960, with 400 athletes from 23 countries competing. Prior to the 1960 Games, a series of competitions known collectively as the Stoke Mandeville Games were held in England, with these events now considered the precursor to the modern Paralympics. The Summer Paralympics have been held every four years since 1960, with the Winter Games starting in 1976 in Sweden.
The PyeongChang Games was the 12th edition of the Winter Paralympic Games and was the second in Asia, after Nagano 1998 in Japan.
In terms of the number of participating athletes, the PyeongChang Games had the most to date, with 563 athletes representing 49 countries, and also broke all international broadcast and online viewing records.
The Beijing Winter Paralympics will take place under the same closed loop system implemented for the Beijing Winter Olympics, with all Games-related areas — including arrival and departure, transport, accommodation, catering, competitions and the Opening and Closing Ceremony — operating in a bubble.
Within the closed loop, participants are able to move between competition venues and their accommodation using a special Games transport system. To ensure the safety of Paralympic athletes, the Beijing closed loop has remained in place since before the Olympics in January with no break before the Paralympics.
The Covid-19 pandemic wasn't the only possible disruption to the Beijing Games, with uncertainty in the week leading up to the Opening Ceremony over how the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) would handle the Russian invasion of Ukraine and apparent breach of the Olympic Treaty.
The IPC initially announced on Wednesday that Russian and Belarussian athletes will be permitted to compete in Beijing, but only as neutral competitors under the Paralympic flag. They will not be included on the medal table.
The decision not to outright exclude the Russian and Belarussian athletes was widely criticized, with some European teams threatening to boycott the Games.
In a surprise U-turn on Thursday, the IPC announced that all Russian and Belarussian athletes would be banned from competing at the Beijing Games.
“In taking our decision yesterday, we were looking at the long-term health and survival of the Paralympic movement," IPC President Andrew Parsons said Thursday.
"We are fiercely proud of the principles and values that have made the movement what it is today. However, what is clear is that the rapidly escalating situation has now put us in a unique and impossible position so close to the start of the Games. Yesterday we said we would continue to listen, and that is what we are doing.”
At the Beijing Games, the first event Korea will be competing in is the men's ice hockey on Saturday against China. The first medal event will be alpine ski and biathlon, also on Saturday.
As with the Tokyo Paralympics, the Korean Paralympic Committee has launched a Korea House website to provide information about Korean athletes competing in the Games, watch events and track results. As well as English, the Korea House website is available in English and Chinese.
BY YUN SO-HYANG AND JIM BULLEY [firstname.lastname@example.org]