Oksana Masters warms up for the Women's 5 km at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on March 17, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
It’s never too early to brush up on the program for the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, even though the Tokyo Games haven’t even taken place yet.
It’s actually not that early any way you slice it, as March 4 marks just one year to go until the Opening Ceremony of the Games. The pandemic-induced compressed timeline means fans will have to shift into winter sports mode much sooner than usual. The Paralympic Winter Games have grown by leaps and bounds since the first edition in 1976 and 2022 promises to be the biggest one yet.
Those 1976 Games featured two sports, 16 countries and 198 athletes. Ten Games later, Vancouver 2010 featured more than 500 athletes for the first time. But in 2022, as many as 748 Para athletes will be competing. And the Games also are closely gender balanced, with 39 medal events for men, 35 for women and four mixed events. If the maximum of 234 slots for women are filled, that will be a 76 percent increase over the female participation in PyeongChang.
Here’s a closer look at what the 2022 Games might look like sport by sport.
Overview: The biggest sport on the winter program, alpine skiing includes 30 medal events, the same amount as in 2018. Disciplines are the same as the Olympic program: Downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and combined. Within those are three classifications based on the athlete’s ability, either sitting, standing or visually impaired.
Storylines to Follow: COVID-19 has greatly impacted the Para alpine calendar in 2020 and into 2021, with U.S. skiers recently competing at their one and only world cup of the season. The pandemic also forced the postponement of the world championships to February 2022, meaning skiers will contest the world championships and the Paralympic Winter Games within just weeks of each other.
Athletes to Watch: Andrew Kurka and Laurie Stephens are the most decorated current members of the national team in terms of the Paralympic Games. Kurka won his first Paralympic gold medal in PyeongChang in downhill and added a silver medal in super-G. Stephens, a four-time Paralympian, has two gold, two silver and three bronze medals.
Fun Fact: Team USA has the most alpine skiing medals of any country with 257.
Overview: Biathlon has 18 events on the program. Women ski three distances: 6, 10 and 12.5 kilometers. Men ski 7.5, 12.5 and 15. The same three classifications exist as in Alpine skiing. Athletes are timed and also face penalties based on how they shoot.
Storylines to Follow: The Para biathlon world championships were also rescheduled to next February so biathletes will also have a tight turnaround between that event and the Games. There is a lot of crossover between cross-country skiing and biathlon, meaning some athletes have a chance for numerous medals.
Athletes to Watch: All five current members of the U.S. national team are Paralympians. Dan Cnossen is the reigning gold medalist in 7.5k biathlon and Kendall Gretsch owns the 6k title. Gretsch is also the reigning world champion from 2019.
Fun Fact: U.S. national team member Oksana Masters has medaled in biathlon, cross-country skiing, and rowing in her Paralympic career.
Overview: With 20 events, cross-country is the second-largest sport on the program. There are five distances for men and women, with three classifications each. There also are two relay events.
Storylines to Follow: The cross-country world championships will also take place just before the Paralympic Winter Games next February. Multi-sport athletes like Masters and Tatyana McFadden may be seen in this summer’s Tokyo Games.
Athletes to Watch: Gretsch and Masters combined for four medals between them in 2018, three of them gold.
Fun Fact: Cross-country is one of two sports, along with alpine skiing, that have been contested at every Paralympic Winter Games.
Overview: Sled hockey is one of two team sports on the Paralympic program. Eight teams compete in one tournament.
Storylines to Follow: Can anyone top Team USA? The U.S. has won the last three Paralympic tournaments and is the reigning world champion as well. The pandemic has disrupted almost all team activity, but this year’s world championships will serve as an important proving ground for the team’s gold-medal defense.
Athletes to Watch: Several U.S. players earned honors at the 2018 Games in PyeongChang. Forward Brody Roybal was tournament MVP and was the co-leader in scoring with teammate Declan Farmer, and U.S. goalie Steve Cash has been in the net for the last three gold-medal teams.
Fun Fact: Sled hockey is officially co-ed, but only two women have competed at the Games. USA Hockey started a women’s development team in 2007.
Overview: Snowboarding features 10 events in two disciplines: banked slalom and snowboardcross. Within those are two classifications for women and three for men. Women have two classes of lower body impairment while men have a third for upper limbs.
Storylines to Follow: Besides contesting their world championships close to the Games like the other winter sports, snowboarders just hope to get back on competitive slopes in 2021.
Athletes to Watch: The U.S. national team features five Paralympic medalists, including dual gold medalist Brenna Huckaby. Zach Miller is a relative newcomer to the national team but already owns medals from the world championships and the world cup circuit.
Fun Fact: Mike Schultz is not only a member of the national team, he owns a prosthetics company that specializes in high performance equipment for Para snowboarders.
Overview: An expanded tournament form 2018 will carry over to 2022 with 12 nations competing in a single tournament. Rosters are co-ed and each team must have at least one woman.
Storylines to Follow: Can China repeat on home soil? China snapped Canada’s gold-medal winning streak in PyeongChang, upsetting Canada in the semifinals and Norway in the final. Seven different nations have earned medals since wheelchair curling’s debut in 2006, but not Team USA quite yet. After several COVID-related postponements, Team USA recently got back on the ice to prep for the world championships.
Athletes to Watch: The current U.S. team consists of skip Steve Emt, Penny Greely, Patrick McDonald, David Samsa and Matthew Thums. Emt, Greely and McDonald are all Paralympians.
Fun Fact: Steve Emt had a cameo in the ESPN docuseries “The Last Dance” chronicling the 1990s Chicago Bulls. Emt was teammates with Bulls player Scott Burrell at UConn and once met up with him after a game that was captured on video.