China wraps up its most successful Winter Paralympics ever

Society & Culture

China topped the medals table at the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics, but it has to share the spotlight with the nation with the second-most medals: Ukraine.

China celebrates Para ice hockey bronze (photo via Getty)

After winning a single gold four years ago, China has finished on top of the medals table at its home Paralympics, which concluded Sunday. It won a staggering 61 medals — 18 gold, 20 silver, and 23 bronze — a clear vindication for the amount of money and time the country has invested into its Paralympic program.

At the Tokyo Summer Paralympics, China also finished on top of the medals table. But before this year, the country had won only one medal of any kind in the Winter Paralympics.

“The Games have given people with impairments a lot of confidence,” gold medal cross-country skier Máo Zhōngwǔ 毛忠武 told AFP, which also reported that a “significant amount” of China’s General Administration of Sports’s 2021 budget of $1 billion went toward winter sports.

Among the many notable storylines, Yú Jìng 于静 became the second woman ever to win a medal in Paralympic ice hockey (she was just the third woman to ever participate in Para ice hockey).

“There are many girls in China who would like to join the sport and there are already many who play it,” she said. “I am the representative of these female players in this team. I got the chance to play for the national team and be on this stage to show the power of Chinese women to the world.”

That China’s ice hockey team won anything at all should be considered incredible, considering the team formed just five years ago. It beat South Korea 4-0 in the bronze medal game on Saturday.

Of the medals won in the final week of competition, most came from the cross-country skiing events, with China’s closing ceremony flag-bearer Yáng Hóngqióng 杨洪琼 earning a hat-trick of golds in the women’s sitting long distance, sprint, and 10km events.

In the men’s cross-country competitions, Máo Zhōngwǔ 毛忠武 was the standout, securing gold in the 15.5km sitting and two silvers in the sprint and long distance.

In alpine skiing, Zhāng Mèngqiū 张梦秋, who claimed a gold and two silvers in the opening week, added another gold and silver in the giant slalom and slalom standing events. Zhang finished the Games with five medals.

Off the slopes, the wheelchair curling team — China’s solitary medal from four years ago — put behind a rocky start to defend its title, beating Sweden in the final.

After losing its opening two games — to Canada and Sweden — the defending champs strung together eight straight wins in the pool stage, then beat Canada and Sweden en route to gold.

Although China has now secured back-to-back success in both the Summer and Winter Paralympics, life for people with disabilities in the country remains a struggle. Since Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 came to power in 2013, many advocacy groups for those with disabilities have been shut down.

Organizations such as Yirenping, which defended the rights of people with disabilities through legal means, was forced to shut in 2013 after its offices were raided and activists jailed. The New York Times also notes that China’s parathletes are among those who have experienced discrimination.

While China has made progress in some areas, such as strengthening anti-discrimination laws and mandating equal access to employment and education, hardships can still be especially acute.

Activists have pushed for greater rights like the improvement of barrier-free facilities and legal reforms to address the needs of the more than 85 million people with disabilities in the country.

But they have faced resistance at times from a centralized government and state-funded Chinese institutions, which still refer to disabilities as diseases in most official documents, and from a public that remains largely ignorant about the challenges they face.

[Para Alpine skier Lǐ Xiǎng 李响] says that he has experienced too many indignities to count, but one memory sticks out. After a training session, he returned to his dormitory building to find the elevator broken. It was a snowy winter evening, he had no way to contact his teammates, and the facility was not wheelchair accessible. After waiting for two hours, Li abandoned his wheelchair out of desperation and crawled up the stairs on his hands and knees “like a dog,” he said.


Ukraine shares the spotlight

In another incredible development, Ukraine finished second in the medals table. Two weeks ago, it wasn’t even certain the team would make it to Beijing, as Russian tanks rolled through their country. Ukrainian Paralympic Committee President Valeriy Sushkevych said it was a miracle that the athletes had made it to China in the first place.

And as NBC Olympics reports, for many Ukrainian athletes, focusing on the events was a major challenge.

After earning a bronze medal in biathlon, Dmytro Suiarko revealed that he’d had a difficult time focusing because his house had been destroyed by Russian shelling a day earlier.

“Very hard concentration is needed in biathlon and I missed twice because yesterday my house where I live, it was bombed and destroyed,” Suiarko said.

Ukraine leaves Beijing with 11 golds, 10 silvers, and eight bronzes, the country’s best result since it began competing at the Winter Paralympics in 1998.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a cloud that has hung over the entire Paralympics. Before the Games, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced that all Russian and Belorussian athletes would be banned from competing, while China made headlines for censoring IPC President Andrew Parsons’s speech at the opening ceremony after he called for peace.

Speaking about the amazing achievements of the Ukrainian athletes, Parsons said, “What being here means for the Ukrainians, I think it means a lot. To compete here at such a high level knowing their family and nation is under attack is just incredible. It’s one of the most incredible displays of resilience I’ve ever seen in my life, in or outside of sport.”


Other Stories:

Closing ceremony photos (Reuters, The Guardian, NBC)

The Best Photos from the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing (People)

Political Balancing Act Leaves China’s Sports Industry Wobbling (Mark Dreyer, Foreign Policy)

The Forgotten Story of China’s First Pro Boxer (Sixth Tone)

China’s Road to Winter Paralympic Glory (The World of Chinese)

Beijing 2022 sets new standard for delivery of Games, says IPC president Parsons (Xinhua)

The China Sports Column runs every week. Click here for our coverage of Beijing 2022.