All eyes will be on the ice of the Water Cube at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games as hosts China try to repeat their historic gold from four years ago in Wheelchair Curling.
Having made their Paralympic debut at Sochi 2014 with a fourth place finish, a year later China had a shot on World Championships gold for the first time. Despite missing out on the title, their silver medal put everyone on notice that the team were coming for glory.
Just three years later at PyeongChang 2018, China were on a roll. They sensationally knocked-out defending champions – and curling legends – Canada in the semi-finals and went on to become the only other country to win gold since the sport’s Torino 2006 debut.
Heading up their efforts is Haito Wang. The skip has been present for all of his team’s major successes over the years. This includes their first world title in 2019 which they successfully reclaimed in 2021.
Haito Wang (left) has been at the centre of China's rise to the top. Ⓒ Richard Gray
Canada however remain the most decorated Wheelchair Curling country of all time. Until China came along in 2018, the Canadians were the only team to have won Paralympic gold and were playing for their fourth title.
They still left PyeongChang 2018 with bronze. Mark Ideson played a major role in their success and has been on the squad for two of Canada’s best World Championships showings in the last decade – gold in 2013 and silver in 2020.
Norway have failed to make a mark on the World Championships podium since their Paralympic silver from 2018. However with “glue guy” Ole Fredrik Syverson on the team, it would not be surprising if their positive attitude carried Norway further than their recent record might suggest.
Paralympic bronze medallists from 2006 and 2010, Sweden, will also be optimistic of a return to their glory days. Their respective bronze and silver from the 2020 and 2021 Worlds has seen their stock rise. Kristina Ulander made her Paralympic debut in 2014 and has been integral to Sweden’s efforts, including under her shared leadership as vice-skip when the side overcame China for bronze in 2020.
Kristina Ulander has hit her stride for Sweden. Ⓒ WCF / Alina Pavlyuchik 2021
Despite challenges around finding ice time to practice, Latvia could be the surprise of the tournament on their debut. They have beaten Canada since their first World Championships appearance in 2019, adding to their growing impact on the game.
Look out also for the USA who have a new skip leading their charge. Matthew Thums led the US to promotion to the top flight in 2021 in his first season, and subsequent qualification for Beijing 2022 with their best Worlds finish in five years.
New skip Matthew Thums will be hoping Beijing 2022 heralds a new era for the USA. Ⓒ WCF / Alina Pavlyuchik 2021
A total of 11 teams will compete for medals between 5-12 March, beginning with a round-robin: China, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, South Korea, Latvia, Slovakia, USA, Canada, Switzerland, Estonia.
The complete schedule and results from Beijing 2022 are available on Paralympic.org.