With Thursday 9 March marking one year to go until the next Paralympic Winter Games, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Sir Philip Craven has spoken of his excitement at the emergence of a new generation of talented Para athletes who could shine at PyeongChang 2018.
Next year’s Paralympic Winter Games are set to be the biggest yet with up to 670 athletes from 45 nations competing in 80 medal events covering six sports. And Sir Philip, who will stand down as IPC President this September, believes the depth of talent in each sport has never been stronger, with a number of new athletes coming to the fore.
“This year we have already witnessed fantastic World Championships and World Cup competitions in alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing and snowboard where a number of new talents have really shook up the status quo,” said Sir Philip. “The competition is more exciting than ever before with athletes greatly raising the bar in terms of performance.
“In particular we’ve seen a number of talented youngsters who have been on the circuit a while really mature and start to podium more consistently. At the same time, the dominance some athletes have enjoyed in recent years has been broken ensuring greater unpredictability in the outcome of races.
“With the World Wheelchair Curling Championships ongoing in PyeongChang and the Para ice hockey equivalent still yet to come, I am confident that even more new talent will emerge over the next 12 months. These are exciting times for Paralympic winter sport.”
New blood to look out for
Sir Philip has highlighted a number of young athletes he is eager to see compete at PyeongChang 2018 after they performed well at this year’s World Championships.
“In alpine skiing, a trio of teenage talents have really made an impression on me this season and I cannot wait to see what they do on the slopes next year,” he said.
“Seventeen-year-old Dutch sit-skier Jeroen Kampschreur was a spectator at Sochi 2014, but having graduated from an IPC development camp the same year, he’s now a three-time world champion.
“Likewise, Great Britain’s Millie Knight made her Paralympic debut in Sochi, but the 18-year-old will head to PyeongChang 2018 as the visually impaired downhill world champion.
“At just 16-years-old, France’s Arthur Bauchet is the youngest of the three, but he’s been an absolute revelation in the men’s standing class this year, picking up two world titles.
“Cross-country skiing and snowboard also boast some fantastically talented youngsters who I am confident will light-up PyeongChang 2018.
“Austria’s Carina Edlinger is only 18 but she won two cross-country world titles last month in Finsterau, Germany, whilst Dutch snowboarder Chris Vos is a phenomenal talent. There are very few 19-year-olds who boast four world titles but he is one of them and he will be keen to add Paralympic gold to his medal collection next year.
“I’m also looking forward to seeing youngsters and new athletes emerge in the ongoing and upcoming ice sport World Championships.”
Development of snowboard
After making its Paralympic debut at Sochi 2014, Sir Philip has said he is looking forward to seeing more snowboard events at PyeongChang 2018. Four years ago, there were two medal events, whilst next March medals 10 gold medals will be contested.
“I think snowboard has developed rapidly in the last four years,” explained Sir Philip. “Changes to the classification system in 2015, establishing three classes, have made the sport fairer and given greater impetus for all athletes.
“The introduction of banked slalom and changing snowboard cross to a head-to-head format has added more excitement to the sport for athletes and spectators alike. I am sure snowboard, like it was at Sochi, will be a big hit with spectators in PyeongChang,” he added.
As preparations for next year’s Paralympic Winter Games move into the final 12 months, Sir Philip has stressed the importance of the ongoing Test Events programme.
This week PyeongChang is playing host to the World Wheelchair Curling Championships, and from Friday World Cup events will begin in alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing and snowboard.
April’s Test Event in Para ice hockey will double up as the World Championships A-Pool providing guaranteed qualification for next year’s Paralympics for the top five teams.
“The PyeongChang 2018 Test Events not only give Para athletes and organisers an opportunity to sample what they can expect next year when the Games take place, but they are a fantastic platform for the Organising Committee to engage the Korean public,” said Sir Philip.
“This week in PyeongChang and the surrounding area we have athletes from five of the six Paralympic winter sports. In snow sports alone we have around 240 athletes from 31 countries which represents the biggest ever gathering of winter Para athletes outside of the Paralympic Winter Games. The competition has never been so fierce.
“You only have to look at social media to see how excited many athletes are to be competing in South Korea for the first time to realise that something special will take place at PyeongChang 2018.
“Last Saturday’s Paralympic Day to mark the opening of the World Wheelchair Curling Championships attracted 3,000 people and, with further engagement activities required over the next 12 months, I am sure that PyeongChang will be a great success.”
The PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games will take place between 9-18 March. Tickets for the event will go on-sale later this year.