The curtain rises on the Beijing Paralympic Games, Chinese and Ukrainian athletes shine

The flame was extinguished during the Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, which were overshadowed by the conflict in Ukraine.

China topped the medal table at the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games with 61 medals. ()

The Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing have come to an end after the banning of competitors from Russia and Belarus as well as outstanding performances from the host country and athletes from conflict-affected Ukraine.

At the “Bird’s Nest” stadium in the capital, China handed over the Paralympic flag to the Italian Milano-Cortina who is preparing to organize the Games in four years.

Beijing is the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics and Paralympics and it is hoped that this year’s event will leave a legacy of greater accessibility and rights for 85 million Chinese people with disabilities.

In his closing speech, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Andrew Parsons hailed the athletes as “beacons of hope and champions of peace”.

“In the Paralympic villages, there were different nations, different opinions, different abilities. The differences here didn’t divide us. They united us,” he said.

“Because of this unity, we have hope. Hopes for inclusion, hopes for harmony and, above all, hopes for peace.”

On ice and snow, athletes “produced moments of magic” while organizers delivered “amazing, safe and spectacular” Games, Parsons said.

READ MORE: China demands end to US ‘interference’ in Olympics

Chinese President Xi Jinping was among the dignitaries present when the Paralympic flame was extinguished after nine days of sports action in para-ice hockey, wheelchair curling, para-snowboard, para-alpine skiing, para-biathlon and para – cross-country skiing.

Controversy over whether athletes from Russia and ally Belarus should be allowed to compete has overshadowed preparations for the Games.

The International Olympic Committee had urged sports federations around the world to exclude athletes from these nations.

The IPC initially said it would allow them to compete as neutrals, but after threats to boycott other competitors and growing tensions in the Athletes’ Village, organizers banned them.

READ MORE: Canadian skier Brian McKeever wins historic 16th Paralympic gold medal

‘Resilience’

After an arduous journey to the Chinese capital, Ukrainian athletes achieved a remarkable second place in the medal standings after their best performance at the Paralympic Winter Games.

One athlete learned that her soldier father had been taken prisoner by Russian troops during the Games while another won a gold medal after discovering her home in Kharkiv had been bombed.

The team, which dominated in biathlon and cross-country skiing, won 11 gold medals and 29 podiums – four medals more than the country’s previous best in Turin in 2006.

The team won its last gold medal in the open cross-country relay on Sunday, ahead of France and Norway.

Team veteran Vitalii Lukianenko, 43 – who won double gold and silver in the biathlon – carried the Ukrainian flag at the closing ceremony.

Parsons paid a rousing tribute to the Ukraine team on Saturday.

“To compete here at such a high level knowing that your family and your nation are under attack is just amazing,” he said.

“It’s one of the most incredible displays of resilience I’ve ever seen in my life, in sport or out of it.”

China have emerged as a force to be reckoned with – topping the medal standings ahead of Ukraine, Canada, France and the United States – with 18 gold medals and 61 medals in all.

China made their Paralympic Games debut in 2002 but won their first medal just four years ago – a wheelchair curling gold in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“It is certain that China is now a powerhouse in Paralympic winter sports,” Parsons said during the closing ceremony.

Over 560 athletes from 46 nations participated in the Games and there was a medal blitz on the final day of competition.

The United States beat Canada 5-0 to win the para ice hockey gold medal.

The Americans also dominated the mixed cross-country ski relay in Zhangjiakou, sharing the podium with China and Canada, while Italian, French and Norwegian male athletes clinched the latest gold medals in the alpine skiing categories.

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Source: AFP

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