The Olympic Games get a lot of love. However, if you haven’t gotten enough sports action yet, you can watch some of the world’s toughest athletes once again go head-to-head between Friday, March 4, and Sunday, March 13, 2022, during the Paralympic Games.
The Paralympic Games enter their 74th year this spring. Here are nine things you didn’t know about this spectacular sporting event.
1. A Veteran Started Them
The original Olympics began in ancient Greece around 776 B.C. The modern Paralympics came about much later. Ludwig Guttman started them in 1948 for World War II veterans with spinal injuries.
This year’s games feature 736 athletes and 78 medal events. There are 39 events for men and 35 for women. The games welcome trans athletes, making them a model for inclusion for other institutions to follow. It sets a shining example amid a flurry of proposed legislation banning such individuals from competing.
Some of the games involve mixed-gender events. Wheelchair curling will include 12 such teams, each requiring at least one female.
Like standard Olympic games, athletes can qualify to compete through several means. They can place at World Championships, regional games or rank, or a world or regional list. They can also achieve a minimum qualification standard with or without the subsequent allocation formula.
2. Skiing Is the Most Popular Event
Skiing is the most popular event at the Paralympic Winter Games. There are six disciplines: downhill, slalom, super slalom, super-G, super combined and team events.
Athletes compete in three categories based on their abilities. A results calculation system allows those with various impairments to compete against each other. Racers often reach speeds of 100 or more miles per hour as they race down the slopes, and missing a gate results in disqualification.
3. The Record-Holder Has More Gold Than Phelps
Michael Phelps is an impressive athlete, to be sure, with 28 medals. However, he more than met his match in para-athlete Trischa Zorn-Hudson, who tops the charts at 55 — 41 gold, nine silver and five bronze.
In the Seoul 1988 games, Zorn-Hudson won 10 gold medals in 10 events, setting new world records in each one. She won admittance to the Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2012. She currently works as an attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
4. There Are Subdivisions for Different Challenges
Each para-athlete is as unique as any other. They also have various challenges that make ranking their performance more difficult than watching an instant replay of who crossed the finish line first.
The Games use the Raza point score system, where judges convert performances to point scores to account for each athlete’s classification. Therefore, a more disabled athlete might beat a less disabled one, even if they don’t throw or jump quite as far.
5. Beijing Is the First City to Host Summer and Winter
Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics this year, but that isn’t the city’s only distinction. It’s also the first to host the Paralympic Games in both summer and winter back-to-back.
In many ways, the city is uniquely suited for these games. Athletes with disorders like cystic fibrosis run an elevated risk of severe infection from the COVID-19 pandemic. China’s zero-tolerance approach, strict quarantine requirements and mask rules keep participants safer. Although China has waived the quarantine requirement for athletes, they exist in a “bubble” with daily testing and N95 masks required when not competing.
The Paralympic Winter Games served up yet another wrinkle during the pandemic — the need for coaches to communicate with their visually impaired athletes. Although officials discourage coaches from shouting to prevent potential spread through aerosol droplets, they may briefly remove their masks to accommodate these participants.
6. Innsbruck, Austria, Hosted Back-to-Back Winter Games
Who decides where to hold the Paralympic Winter Games? It’s a joint decision between the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee. Ten cities have hosted the winter games since their inception.
Innsbruck, Austria, has the distinction of hosting the games twice back-to-back, in 1984 and 1988. The city’s unique geographic location makes it ideal for skiing events, seated in a valley surrounded by towering, snow-capped mountains. Visitors with less athletic aspirations than competitors can take a cable car to one of the enormous peaks and enjoy a spectacular view.
7. The Paralympic Flame Is Now Eco-Friendlier
Addressing climate change is everyone’s responsibility. Human beings don’t get a pass for special events like the Olympics. Fortunately, the event’s organizers take their sustainability responsibility seriously.
This year’s Paralympic Winter Games will feature a torch powered by hydrogen. This technology was first implemented in the Tokyo 2020 games to decrease emissions.
Switching fuels isn’t the only eco-friendly change. Organizers use sustainable materials, such as recyclable cardboard beds, to construct the Olympic Village.
8. Blind People Can Play Ball
Have you heard of Goalball? If you haven’t, it’s probably because you’re a sighted person. It’s played exclusively by athletes with blindness or visual impairment.
Athletes must have less than 10% vision to participate. All participants wear special opaque glasses to level the playing field — people who can see shades of gray have no advantage over those who have complete blindness.
The interesting thing about this sport is watching it — you must remain silent. During game time, only players or referees may make sounds so the athletes can hear and locate the ball. The sport has appeared in the Paralympics with a men’s and women’s division since 1984.
9. Even the Medals Are Accessible
What’s it like to win a gold medal when you can’t see the metal shine? Athletes with visual impairments will immediately know their rank before announcing the winner. The medals feature one to three lines, indicating bronze, silver or gold.
Furthermore, the venues go above and beyond to ensure accessibility. They must adhere to strict guidelines regarding ramps and signage to allow everyone to navigate freely.
Facts About the Paralympic Winter Games
Athletes come in all shapes, sizes and ability levels. The Paralympic Winter Games allow you to witness some of the best-trained individuals from around the globe compete.
These participants overcome incredible challenges to practice their sport. Now that you know these nine things about the Paralympic Winter Games, catch all the action starting March 4.