Prior to this edition, China had won only one medal at the Winter Paralympics in its entire history. Today, the host nation overwhelmingly dominates the medal standings. explanation.
This year, China is dominating the Paralympic Winter Games in an insane way. A day before the end of the competitions, the country is first in the medal standings with 58 charms. An impressive figure, especially as the Chinese had won just one medal so far at the Paralympic Winter Games four years ago, with a title in curling. Why such a brutal awakening? explanation.
Intense preparation in the shade
When we got here, no one could know for sure the level of Chinese athletes. Because in recent months they have hardly ever appeared at the races, were not at the World Cup, to train non-stop. “It’s simple: these medals are the result of our hard work, day in and day out,” para-biathlete Yujie Guo explains to RMC Sport. It has been a long time since we competed abroad, the other athletes have not given us seen , but at that time we were training hard, day and night. And in terms of endurance, physical capacity, we continue to give everything in training…”
Work in the shade to better catch the light, all framed by the expertise of foreign coaches. For para-alpine skiing, China brought in Dario Capelli, former technical director of the Italian Paralympic team. He is the first to open a ski school for people with disabilities in Europe. The transalpine arrived in August 2018. “When I joined the team, almost everything had to be built. Some started with nothing, he admits on Chinese television. Doing this sport with these athletes is a new experience for me. Every day I’ve been on different custom training programs. We were together 24 hours a day, 11 months a year. I’m not just a team leader. I often take on the role of father and friend.”
A surprising arrival
So a life together, which allowed the Chinese para-athletes to carry out this “operation command” and this intense preparation. The para-ice hockey team is coached by a Russian coach. “To be honest, I said it a long time ago: ‘The Chinese are going to bluff us,’ remarks Christian Fémy, winter sports director at the French Handisport Federation. They show this in the world of Paralympism, with excellent preparation, you can you can become a leading nation in a few years. At first I thought it would be more in disciplines like snowboarding, where you can arrive a bit late… We didn’t see them, but we were pretty convinced that ‘they would be there.’
“Most people said the Chinese wouldn’t be too much of a threat to us. But they really showed us that they can be a strong nation,” admits French para-skier Arthur Bauchet. I was surprised myself by a Chinese on the Super G He arrived at the beginning of the season, we discovered him and we said to ourselves “wow, he’s new”. Before that, there were some brilliant moments: paraskier Zhang Mengqiu surprised everyone at the start of the 2019-season 2020 by winning a race for Frenchwoman Marie Bochet, then eight-time Paralympic champion.
Dominance by numbers
“They also have one thing that we don’t have, it’s the number,” says Christian Femy pragmatically. The Chinese also win more medals because they are… much more numerous. From twenty-six athletes at the 2018 Pyeonchang Paralympic Games, we have gone to a record ninety-six athletes! For example, France came to Beijing with nineteen athletes.
“It is true that it is quite surprising to see so many on the starting list,” said Arthur Bauchet. There were five of them in the standing para-alpine ski races, the most represented country with France and the United States. Density creates competition, draws to the top and above all makes it possible to have more opportunities to create great talent.
A way of “existence” for the disabled
“If you live with your teammates for a long time, you will gradually get used to their presence,” explains Li Sitong, the para-skier category, on the International Federation site. It is inevitable that there will be differences in our habits and conflicts as well, but in general we are in harmony. We do our own things and we help each other.” It is estimated that today China has 85 million people with disabilities, who have been forced to take up sports in recent years.
Some of the athletes at these Beijing Games have also developed in other disciplines before, such as Chen Liang, who practiced track and field and started skiing in 2017. Usually they only discovered the white sports for four or five years. “They have a kind of self-improvement and a strong desire to participate in society, which is probably the main reason for the success,” said Yang Shuan, Vice President of Beijing 2022. A way of life for these people , while China is known for ‘abandoning’ people with disabilities.
Known numbers by heart
If the Chinese weren’t geared up for the races before the Games, it’s also because they could only take advantage of the Olympic circuits. “Often when we mentioned the topic, we said ‘the Chinese are sanding the track’ because they’ve trained here before,” smiles Arthur Bauchet. A clearly not negligible advantage for these athletes who, after training “days and nights”, know every corner of the slopes, as well as the quality of the snow in Beijing, the pitfalls to avoid.
“I also want this to be increased. They know the site, the area, the environment, Christian Fémy supports. The first day of free skiing we did on the (nordic ski) track, mashed potatoes… There was no problem for them We, they were all there to grope a little bit.” Because no test event was organized for foreign athletes before the Games due to Covid-19.
As usual, China has also invested heavily in the success of a home event. Training centers, advanced technologies… All in a logical picture to display, sport is used as “soft-power” by the regime. Yet some athletes from other countries are surprised by this staggering progress and this new hierarchy. Others question the disability classification of certain Chinese. The question remains: will they remain efficient and present on the world circuit after the Games?