Oksana Masters warms up for the women’s 5km at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games on March 17, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
It’s never too early to revise the program for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, even if the Tokyo Games haven’t even taken place yet.
In fact, it’s not that early, as March 4 marks just one year before the Games’ opening ceremony. The compressed pandemic-induced timeline means fans will need to switch to winter sports mode much sooner than usual. The Paralympic Winter Games have grown in leaps and bounds since the first edition in 1976 and 2022 promises to be the biggest to date.
These 1976 Games included two sports, 16 countries and 198 athletes. Ten Games later, Vancouver 2010 featured more than 500 athletes for the first time. But in 2022, up to 748 para-athletes will compete. And the Games are also very gender balanced, with 39 medal events for men, 35 for women and four mixed events. If the maximum of 234 places reserved for women is filled, this will represent a 76% increase over the female participation in PyeongChang.
Here’s a look at what the 2022 Games could look like, sport by sport.
Overview: The biggest sport on the winter program, alpine skiing includes 30 medal-winning events, the same number as in 2018. The disciplines are the same as the Olympic program: downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and combined. Among these are three classifications based on the ability of the athlete, whether seated, standing or visually impaired.
Scenarios to follow: COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the para-alpine calendar in 2020 and 2021, with American skiers recently competing in their one and only World Cup of the season. The pandemic has also forced the postponement of the world championships to February 2022, which means skiers will compete in the world championships and the Paralympic Winter Games within weeks of each other.
Athletes to watch: Andrew Kurka and Laurie Stephens are the current members of the most decorated national team in terms of the Paralympic Games. Kurka won his first Paralympic gold in PyeongChang in the downhill and added a silver in the super-G. Four-time Paralympian Stephens won two gold, two silver and three bronze.
Fun fact: Team USA has the most medals in alpine skiing of any country with 257.
Overview: Biathlon has 18 events on the program. Women ski three distances: 6, 10 and 12.5 kilometers. The men ski 7.5, 12.5 and 15. The same three classifications exist as in alpine skiing. Athletes are timed and also incur penalties depending on how they shoot.
Scenarios to follow: The Parabiathlon World Championships have also been postponed to next February, so biathletes will also have a tight deadline between this event and the Games. There is a lot of crossover between cross-country skiing and biathlon, which means that some athletes have a chance of winning many medals.
Athletes to watch: The current five members of the US national team are Paralympians. Dan Cnossen is the reigning 7.5km biathlon gold medalist and Kendall Gretsch holds the 6km title. Gretsch has also been the reigning world champion since 2019.
Fun fact: U.S. National Team member Oksana Masters has won medals in biathlon, cross-country skiing and rowing during her Paralympic career.
Overview: With 20 events, cross-country is the second sport on the program. There are five distances for men and women, with three classifications each. There are also two relay events.
Scenarios to follow: The World Cross Country Championships will also take place just before the Paralympic Winter Games next February. Multisport athletes like Masters and Tatyana McFadden can be seen at the Tokyo Games this summer.
Athletes to watch: Gretsch and Masters combined together four medals in 2018, including three gold.
Fun Fact: Cross-country skiing is one of two sports, along with downhill skiing, that have been contested at every Paralympic Winter Games.
Overview: Sledge hockey is one of two team sports in the Paralympic program. Eight teams compete in the same tournament.
Scenarios to follow: Can anyone dominate the USA team? The United States has won the last three Paralympic tournaments and is also the reigning world champion. The pandemic has disrupted nearly everything for the team, but this year’s world championships will serve as an important testing ground for the team’s defense for the gold medal.
Athletes to watch: Several American players took top honors at the 2018 Games in PyeongChang. Forward Brody Roybal has been tournament MVP and co-leader in scoring with teammate Declan Farmer, and US goaltender Steve Cash has been in the net for the past three gold medal-winning teams.
Fun fact: Sledge hockey is officially mixed, but only two women participated in the Games. USA Hockey established a Women’s Development Team in 2007.
Overview: Snowboarding offers 10 events in two disciplines: banked slalom and snowboardcross. Among these are two classifications for women and three for men. Women have two categories of impairment for the lower body while men have a third for the upper limbs.
Scenarios to follow: In addition to playing their world championships close to the Games like other winter sports, snowboarders just hope to find competitive slopes in 2021.
Athletes to watch: The US National Team has five Paralympic medalists, including two-time gold medalist Brenna Huckaby. Zach Miller is a newcomer to the national team, but already has world championship and World Cup circuit medals.
Fun fact: Mike Schultz isn’t just a member of the National Team, he owns a prosthetics company specializing in high performance gear for parasnowboarders.
Overview: An expanded 2018 tournament will continue through 2022 with 12 nations participating in a single tournament. The lists are mixed and each team must have at least one woman.
Scenarios to follow: Can China rehearse at home? China ended Canada’s gold medal streak at PyeongChang, upsetting Canada in the semi-finals and Norway in the final. Seven different nations have won medals since wheelchair curling debuted in 2006, but the U.S. team has yet to be. After several COVID-related postponements, Team USA recently returned to the ice to prepare for the World Championships.
Athletes to watch: The current US team consists of Captain Steve Emt, Penny Greely, Patrick McDonald, David Samsa and Matthew Thums. Emt, Greely and McDonald are all Paralympians.
Fun fact: Steve Emt made an appearance in the ESPN docuseries “The Last Dance” chronicling the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. Emt was a teammate with Bulls player Scott Burrell at UConn and met him once after a game that was filmed.