Paralympic Winter Games
04 - 13 March

Down memory lane: 2002 - Games of the Americas

After Japan capitalised on hosting the event at Nagano and finished fourth in 1998, the 2002 edition was an opportunity for the United States to make the most of home advantage 27 Feb 2022
Opening Ceremony 2002 Salt Lake
The Japanse team during the Opening Ceremony of the Salt Lake City Winter Paralympic Games at the Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium.
ⒸAdam Pretty/Getty Images

The Winter Paralympic Games made their American debut with the eighth edition of the Games being held in 2002 at Salt Lake, Utah.

These were the second Games in succession that were being held away from Europe - the traditional stronghold for Snow sports. After Japan capitalised on hosting the event at Nagano and finished fourth in 1998, the 2002 edition was an opportunity for the United States to make the most of home advantage.

The United States won the right for the Paralympics in 1995 and - combining both the Winter Olympics as well as the Winter Paralympics - the organising committee used the same facilities, including the athletes' village and thus it was an opportunity for both sets of athletes to use the world-class facilities to showcase their best performance. The Games were held from 7-16 March 2002.

Though the Games grew in terms of spectators and media coverage, the total number of participants came down from 571 in Nagano to 415 Para athletes - 328 men and 87 women - from 36 countries.

In total, five venues were located in four cities and towns around Salt Lake in Weber and Wasatch County and West Valley City in Utah. Some of these venues were a bit far from the main city but the organisers managed to conduct the Games without much hassles.

Though the overall number of participants was less than the previous edition, the number of countries taking part in the Salt Lake 2002 was more than Nagano. A total of 36 countries including first-timers China, Croatia, Chile, Andorra, Greece, and Hungary, lined up for the Opening Ceremony, which was based on the theme, 'Awaken the Mind – Free the Body – Inspire the Spirit' and witnessed by around 40,000 spectators who had packed into the Rice Eccles Stadium.

Salt Lake 2002 medals

Eric Weihenmeyer, the first blind man to successfully climb Mount Everest, carried the Paralympic torch to the podium. Guided by his dog, he passed it off to Muffy Davis and Chris Waddell – the top American sit-skiers – who then jointly lit the Paralympic cauldron.

Competitions were held in four sports (down from five in Nagano) - Para Alpine, Para Biathlon, Para Cross-Country Skiing and Para Ice Hockey. Para Speed Sledge Racing was dropped from the programme. In all competitions in 92 events were held.

While the United States finished with the most medals overall - 43 (10 gold, 22 silver and 11 bronze), Germany actually came out on top of the final medal table due to the 17 gold medals it won off the total 33. Norway (19 - 10, 3, 6), Austria (29 - 9, 10, 10) and Russia (21 - 7-9-5) rounded out the top five.

Among the top individual performers, Ragnhild Myklebust of Norway won five gold medals in Skiing and Biathlon, becoming the most successful Winter Paralympic athlete of all time with 22 medals, 17 of them gold.

She bagged gold medals in women's 2.5lm Sit-Ski, women's 5km Sit-Ski, women's 10km Sit-Ski, women's 7.5km Sit-Ski and women's 3x2.5 km relay open.

Australia's Michael Milton won four gold medals in men's Giant Slalom LW2, men's Super G LW2, men's Downhill LW2 and the men's Slalom LW2 competitions. Switzerland's Rolf Heinzmann bagged three gold and a silver medal in Alpine Skiing LW6/8 category.

Hosts USA dominated the Alpine Skiing competitions winning nine gold, 12 silver and 11 bronze. But their biggest success came in the Para Ice Hockey competition as they defeated Norway in a thrilling final. Tied 3-3 following regulation time, the USA left the rink victorious after winning the penalty shootout. This was USA's first gold in Para Ice Hockey.

Overall, it was a good harvest for the hosts as they made the most of the home conditions to finish second overall in the table.