On Friday, March 9, the rhythmic sounds of a drum processional announced the parade of athletes representing 48 nations, along with a neutral delegation of Russians, through Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium, in South Korea. One athlete arrived with a torch in his backpack. Han Min-Su, a South Korean sled hockey player with a prosthetic leg, climbed a rope to pass the flame to See Soon-Seok of the South Korean wheelchair curling team, assisted by Kim Eun-Jung, the skip of the South Korea’s silver-medal-winning women’s curling team. The flame they lit, in the same white cauldron that was used the month before to open the Olympic Games, represented the start of a different games: The Winter Paralympics.
Athletes with varying impairments affecting their legs, arms, or vision, compete in the Winter Paralympic games in 80 medal events in six different sports. The sports are all ones you saw some version of during the Winter Olympics—alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, curling, ice hockey, and snowboarding—but with some differences. The skiing events mostly have three categories each: one for athletes who compete while seated, one for athletes who compete while standing, and one for visually impaired athletes who compete with a guide. Ice hockey is played by athletes seated on sleds. Curlers are all in wheelchairs. Just like their Olympic counterparts, Paralympians train vigorously for this moment. (The Paralympic medals are designed with the athletes in mind, with PYEONGCHANG 2018 written in braille on one side.) Though some countries sent more athletes than others—the United States, Canada, and Japan sent the largest delegations this year—the 2018 Paralympics is a reflection of worldwide growth of para sports. With 567 athletes participating, Pyeongchang is the largest Winter Paralympics to date.
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