The 2018 Olympic winter games are not over, and the Olympic torch is ablaze once again in PyeongChang, South Korea.
The 12th Paralympic Winter Games are now three days in, just two weeks after the XXIII Olympic Winter Games came to a close. This year 48 countries have sent nearly 570 athletes to compete in 80 events in six different sports categories, including Alpine Skiing, Biathlon, Cross-Country Skiing, Ice Sledge Hockey, Snowboarding, and Wheelchair Curling.
By March 18, the date of the Paralympics closing ceremony, 30 gold medals will have been awarded to winners in snow games, for example Alpine Skiing, which is broken down into downhill, slalom and giant slalom categories, and then sub-divided into standing, sitting and visually impaired classifications. Ice-based games are all team competitions. Mixed male and female teams will compete in the Wheelchair Curling and Ice Sledge Hockey matches.
For this round of the winter Paralympics, three Caspian region countries have sent athletes to PyeongChang, namely Iran, Kazakhstan and Russia. Russia’s team consists of the largest group, with 30, while Kazakhstan and Iran sent six and five athletes, respectively.
The five athletes from Iran are hopefuls to break that country’s medal drought in the XXIII Olympic Winter Games and bring home a medal from PyeongChang. Elaheh Gholi-Fallah and Abolfazl Khatibi are competing in Nordic skiing; and Sedigheh Rouzbeh, Hossein Soleghani and Pouria Khalil Tash in Snowboarding.
Iranian Paralympic athletes have not won a medal since their first appearance in Nagano, Japan in 1998. The best Winter Paralympic result for Iran has been achieved by the former skier Sadegh Kalhor, who in 2014 Sochi Paralympic Games finished the men’s slalom in 20th place and is leading this year’s team in South Korea.
Sergey Usoltzev, Kairat Kanafin, Aleksandr Gerlitz, Aleksandr Kolyadin and Denis Petrenko will all represent Kazakhstan and vie for medals in Biathlon and Cross-Country Skiing events.
Zhanyl Baltabaeva, aged 27, is the only female athlete to represent Kazakhstan in Pyeongchang. She is competing in Biathlon, while her first Paralympics competition was in Sochi, four years ago.
“At that time, I had little experience, as the level of my readiness was not good enough,” Zhanyl told Prosports prior to the Games. “I hope that at these Games I will show good results. During these four years, I gained enough experience.”
Kazakhstan’s team has never won a Winter Paralympic gold medal, but they grabbed silver at the Lillehammer Paralympic Winter Games in 1994, when female athlete Lubov Vorobieva ranked second in women’s Cross-Country Skiing.
Russia may be famous for ice hockey, but that is the one Paralympic sport in which its Neutral Paralympic Athletes delegation is not competing. The Russian athletes’ status comes as a result of doping scandal following the Sochi winter games and after which the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that only “clean” athletes could compete at the Games in PyeongChang.
“Neutral status was no news to us, we assumed that our team will act in neutral status, and we were ready for it,” said two-time Paralympic gold medalist in Biatholon and Skiing, Vladislav Lekomtsev, in an interview with Sovetskiy Sport.
Already Russian athletes have clinched medals. Ekaterina Rumyantseva won the gold medal in women’s 6km standing biathlon event on Saturday, while Anna Milenina finished second to take silver. Five-time Olympic champion Mikhalina Lysova won gold on the same day, in the Women’s 6 km Biathlon Visual Impaired event.
Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, the other two Caspian countries, are not represented in this year’s Paralympics. Azerbaijan has yet to send Winter Paralympic athletes, and officials are currently working to create the necessary infrastructure for winter sportsmen and women.
“We’re planning to join the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games with at least one athlete,” Azerbaijan Paralympic Federation Secretary-General Kamal Mammadov told Caspian News. “This will be the first case in our Paralympic history.”
The next Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games will be held in the Chinese capital Beijing, from February 4 to 20 in 2022.