Let the awe-inspiring action begin

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Still not had enough of the thrills and chills of last month's Winter Olympics? Then get ready for arguably an even more inspiring spectacle.

When the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games open on Friday, mankind's sheer determination to strive for sporting excellence in the face of adversity will take center stage in the Chinese capital.

With venue transitions completed to offer a total barrier-free environment, Beijing has given the world's top para athletes the perfect platform to showcase their bravery, resilience, skills and athleticism on the ice and snow.

A record of about 650 athletes from around the world will compete in 78 medal events across six sports-wheelchair curling, para ice hockey, para Alpine skiing, para snowboarding, para cross-country skiing and para biathlon-at five competition venues in downtown Beijing, its northwest Yanqing district and co-host Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, through March 13.

Para athletes from three countries-Israel, Azerbaijan and Puerto Rico-will make their Winter Paralympic debuts in Beijing, where organizers have harnessed the legacy of the 2008 Summer Paralympics to deliver state-of-the-art accessible facilities.

Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, is expecting fun, fair, safe and high-quality competitions in a more inclusive Beijing.

"Our expectations are high, and especially in regard to the sport performances," Parsons told China Daily before the opening of the Games. "Above all, have fun and play fair. It's the opportunity of a lifetime to compete at the Paralympic Games. They (the athletes) should enjoy every second of it.

"I have been coming to China since 2005. So in 17 years, we have seen a lot of changes. It's a more modern country, but at the same time, maybe because of the Paralympic Games in 2008, it's a more inclusive country toward persons with disability."

Smooth transition

Building on the operational readiness of the Olympic Games, Beijing 2022 organizers and volunteers have tailored facilities and services to ensure all Paralympic participants, especially wheelchair users, enjoy a smooth and convenient stay at the athletes' villages and competition venues.

For instance, at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, the snowboard cross track used for the Olympics has had its total length shortened by about 200 meters to accommodate the para riders.

A new course for the other snowboarding event-banked slalom-was built over just five days on an Olympic Games training course. It features a mild drop that suits the competition format at the Paralympics.

Meticulous and far-sighted planning ensured the transition took place efficiently and quickly, according to Wang Shitong, deputy manager of the venue operation team.

"Knowing that the temperature will rise gradually in March, compared to the coldest period during the Olympics, we've stored artificial snow in excess of 80,000 cubic meters. It helped a lot to reshape and rebuild the slopes for the Paralympics without having to make snow from scratch," he said.

In Beijing, adjustments have also been made to venues such as the National Indoor Stadium, which will host para ice hockey. The stadium's operation team made the ice surface thicker than that used at the Olympics to stabilize the movement of para players seated on double-blade sleds, instead of skates. Dasher boards have been replaced by transparent barriers in front of the team seats so that players can watch from their seated positions.

Artificial ice has been used to pave the routes connecting locker rooms to the competition rink for athletes to slide back and forth on their sleds. Ramps for wheelchairs and accessible seats have been installed wherever needed, just as at the other ice sports venue-the National Aquatics Center, aka the Ice Cube, which will host wheelchair curling.

Raring to go

Now, athletes are simply raring for the action to begin as they chase their Paralympic dreams.

Para athletes have been busy training for their upcoming competitions at the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games. To make participants' stay as convenient as possible, organizers have set up a totally barrier-free environment at all venues. WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY

"I'm fortunate to represent my country in doing the thing I love most, so it'll be an absolute honor to put on the Paralympic uniform again in China and make Australia proud," said Ben Tudhope, Australia's world No 1 para snowboarder.

An all-arounder who excels at both summer and winter para sports, defending Paralympic cross-country skiing champion Oksana Masters of the United States is making up for the disappointment at missing out on the 2008 summer edition this time around in Beijing.

"I wanted to get to the Beijing 2008 Summer Paralympics so bad, and I failed to make it. I feel like this is literally going to be my Paralympic journey as an athlete coming full circle," said Masters, who also competes in para rowing and cycling at the Summer Paralympics.

A record number of 96 Chinese athletes, compared to only 26 four years ago, will compete across all six sports at their home Paralympics. The host delegation is raring to show the world how far they've come in developing high-level para winter sports over the past six years.

"Since we won the bid in 2015, we have embraced this great opportunity to develop Paralympic winter sports. And thanks to our hard work, we have made great progress," said Yong Zhijun, deputy director of the sports department at the China Disabled Persons' Federation.

"Since 2016, we have participated in more and more international tournaments, winning medals and making many breakthroughs over the past few years."

After winning the country's first Winter Paralympic gold medal in wheelchair curling in 2018, the Chinese contingent is expected to deliver more breakthroughs in snow sports, such as para cross-country skiing and para Alpine skiing, according to the federation.

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