Few in number, high in quality. That is how Norway’s chef de mission Cato Zahl Pedersen describes the team who will be competing at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.
As a multi-medallist himself, Pedersen knows what it takes to go all the way at a Games but admits it is much harder watching than competing.
“I have nerves,” admitted Pedersen. “Sometimes I feel I would like to be there myself. But now we prepare to support the athletes and, as a team, we hope for eight medals.
“We are a small team. In Norway we should have more [Para winter] athletes but we have not had much success. However, we can challenge the podium. In curling we can hope and expect for a medal.
“We are high quality and we are ready. We hope everyone is in good health in Beijing and everyone makes the starting line.”
Hoping to relive glory days
Norway’s winter sports pedigree at the Paralympic Games is as successful as at the Olympic Games, with the European nation leading the all-time medals table with 136 golds, 106 silvers and 85 bronze.
Roll back the years to 1994 and Norway finished top of the medals table with 29 golds as they played host at Lillehammer.
However, they have not experienced similar success most recently. Four years ago, Para Alpine skier Jesper Pedersen was the only Norwegian Paralympic champion in PyeongChang while the team found themselves in 14th place.
Similarly, Sochi 2014, Vancouver 2010 and Turin 2006 each yielded a single gold and failure to finish in the top 10.
Jesper Pedersen Ⓒ Luc Percival for World Para Sports
Reasons to hope
Pedersen won the men’s giant slalom and took bronze in the super combined at PyeongChang at the age of 18 and comes into Beijing on the back of an impressive World Championships in Lillehammer.
He finished first in downhill, giant slalom and slalom and second in super-G and super combined.
“This is maybe for me as big as the Paralympics because it’s at home,” said a delighted Pedersen, who dedicated his downhill title to his late father, Bjorn, who died in November 2020 of a heart attack.
Pedersen was not the only Norwegian to come away from Lillehammer 2021 with trophies. Vilde Nilsen’s progress continues to be impressive.
The 21-year-old won two golds and one silver. She first sprang into the limelight at PyeongChang with an unexpected silver medal and then followed it up by winning four world titles a year later.
So near, yet so far for Norway’s Wheelchair Curling team at PyeongChang 2018. They pushed surprise package China all the way only to lose the final 6-5 after an extra-end decider.
“I hope we take a medal and I hope it will be better than last time,’ said Ole Fredrik Syversen, the number two.
“We came to Beijing in November for the World Championships and we know everything about the facilities and the rink and that is very useful. We are also in a hotel just five minutes away. But two games every day is tough. You have to be mentally strong.”
Ole Fredrik Syversen Ⓒ Getty Images
Nils Erik Ulset will call it a day after Beijing 2022 but hopes to add to his medal tally first. The 38-year-old won one Para Biathlon gold at Vancouver 2010 and was a double Para Cross-Country champion at Salt Lake City in 2002.
In total, he has 13 Paralympic medals to his name and will be competing in his sixth Games.
Nils Erik Ulset Ⓒ Getty Images