Outlook from the Beijing Games: Celebrating and Building Momentum

After the Tokyo Paralympic Games last year, I reflected on a few things from the Games that stood out and stuck with me (Blog Post – The Tokyo Olympic Games are Over: Now What?). It’s interesting how some of the observations from Tokyo overlap with those from this year’s Paralympic Games in Beijing. A few highlights to note from the 2022 Games:

  • Humanity: Leading up to Tokyo, it was an international effort to get the Paralympians from Afghanistan to the Games. Now just six months later, it was another extraordinary collective effort to get the Ukrainian Paralympic team to Beijing. Congratulations to the Ukrainian team for their amazing success, finishing second in the medal count at the 2022 Games – their continued focus and heart touched us all. An impressive representation of the resiliency of the Ukranian people.

  • TV Coverage: The TV coverage for the Winter Games as a whole has increased, but the mainstream, primetime coverage for the Paralympic Games was lacking, consisting mostly of the usual highlight shows of competitions from previous days. Yes, was there more coverage available through non-mainstream networks and streaming, but if we want to impact the masses, more primetime, live coverage not clip shows, is essential!

  • Innovation: We send Team USA Alpine Ski Paralympian Andrew Kurka wishes for a speedy recovery after breaking his arm and thumb during a downhill training run. I know I was looking forward to seeing the Toyota Racing Development team’s innovation in action with Andrew’s ski. We’ll see how technology and innovation continue to evolve when we see Andrew ski again in Milan Cortina. Check out this cool video from Toyota and the process for leading innovations in sit ski design.

  • Out-of-Nowhere: Similar to the Tokyo Games where a few countries stunned with their medal-winning performances, China was that team for the 2022 Games. I’m sure many were surprised with their multiple podium sweeps and being top in the medal count. This all comes after winning just one medal in PyeongChang. It certainly seems like they had a pretty specific strategy to shine for the home crowd. Will Team USA execute on this type of host country strategy for LA28? Let’s hope so!

It wouldn’t be the Games without some amazing Team USA efforts and stellar performances:

Congratulations to…

  • Team USA Para Snowboarder Mike Schultz who is bringing home a silver medal for his snowboard cross performance. We were so honored to highlight Mike and his business, BioDapt, during LABS 2021. Not only is he innovating prosthetics for himself, but he is giving back to the community by providing his action sport prosthetic to competitors around the world. Way to pay it forward to advance the sport!  

  • Team USA Sled Hockey Team, the most dominant hockey team in world. Cheers to their fourth straight gold medal – incredible!! Only one goal was scored on Team USA during the Paralympic tournament. USA Hockey set out years ago to develop a grassroots program to build their athlete pipeline. Lo and behold they’ve done just that with GREAT success and reaping the Para sport investment rewards. “Dynasty” is how some commentators are defining the Team’s dominance, and I have to agree!

  • What a way to celebrate Women’s History Month with both Oksana Masters and Kendall Gretsch. Between the two, they scored ten Paralympic medals, half of Team USA’s total medal haul. It was even more poignant for Oksana to be skiing with her birth country of Ukraine during this incredibly devastating time. She did both countries proud. Masters also made Paralympic history breaking the U.S. record for the most Winter Paralympic medals with a total of 14. She made the podium in all seven of the events she competed in in Beijing.

Lastly, here’s a thought to ponder since we have a couple of years until Paris 2024 and Cortina 2026 are upon us…

The term “grassroots programs” was mentioned a number of times by Paralympic commentators during the Games, acknowledging how and where athletes discovered Para sport. It still seems that so many athletes discover disability sport by happenstance. Similar to my comments post-Tokyo, it would incredibly helpful if there was some sort of centralized structure within the U.S. to engage athletes at the introductory level to build a consistent and sustaining pipeline of elite athletes ready to compete on sport’s biggest stage. Wouldn’t it be helpful to sport leaders if there was a strategy to support their sport development efforts between grassroots and NGBs?

Paralympic Champions Mallory Weggemann and Alana Nichols even shared during the Beijing Paralympics that they learned about adapted sport by chance. How do we make sure those born with or who acquire a disability know about adapted sport opportunities and don’t miss out on experiencing the power of sport?

We’d love to hear your thoughts – what were your observations and highlights from the Beijing Paralympic Games? What do you hope to see before Paris 2024 or Milan Cortina 2026 to keep the adapted sport movement progressing in the U.S.? Please share your thoughts in the comments below or on social media.  

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