Great Britain have opened their campaign at the Winter Paralympics with a bronze for Millie Knight and her guide Brett Wild in the very first medal event in Beijing. Knight finished third in the visually impaired category of the women’s downhill Alpine skiing behind Henrieta Farkasova of Slovakia, who won the race to claim the 10th gold medal of her career.
After the race Knight said: “This bronze is something very special. It ranks above our silver four years ago in Pyeongchang. We have gone through some tough things and it has changed us. Crossing the line with a smile on my face was our No 1 goal. I feel like I’m on cloud nine and I just genuinely can’t believe that this is happening to us.”
Britain’s Menna Fitzpatrick finished fifth in the event, while the silver medal went to China’s Zhu Daqing, the first individual medal won at a Winter Paralympics by a Chinese athlete. The hosts made a strong start, with Liu Zixu and Guo Yujie then securing golds in biathlon events among eight Chinese medals in total.
The most emotional scenes of the day were at the Zhangjiakou National Biathlon Centre, where Grygorii Vovchynskyi took Ukraine’s first gold of the Games in the men’s sprint standing, and said “please, no war in Ukraine” to the camera at the end of his run. He was warmly congratulated by silver medallist Marco Maier of Germany, who finished just over 45 seconds behind. The German Paralympic committee described them as “medals for peace” in a tweet.
Vovchynskyi’s Ukrainian compatriots Liudmyla Liashenko and Taras Rad also picked up biathlon silver medals during the day’s session, which ended with another gold for the nation as Oksana Shyshkova emulated her teammate to win the women’s sprint for visually impaired athletes. The Ukrainian team then went on to sweep the podium in the men’s vision impaired sprint biathlon, with Vitaliy Lukianenko delivering their third gold medal, in front of compatriots Oleksandr Kazik and Dmytro Suiarko.
The men’s vision impaired downhill Alpine skiing was won by Austria’s Johannes Aigner who, at 16, is one of the youngest athletes competing in these Games, edging out the defending champion Mac Marcoux of Canada by 0.36 seconds. One of five skiing siblings, three of whom have visual impairments, Aigner first took to the slopes aged four.
There was a surprise in the women’s standing event, as the eight-time Paralympic champion and favourite Marie Bochet of France crashed out while attempting to defend her title. The gold went to Canada’s Mollie Jepsen. There was joy for another French competitor, though. Arthur Bauchet finally has a gold in the men’s downhill standing, having secured four silver medals in Pyeongchang.
In Beijing last month, New Zealand won their first ever gold medals at winter sports, but they have a greater track record in para sports, and Corey Peters secured the county’s 17th all-time gold medal in para skiing, completing his own personal set that included silver in Sochi and bronze in Pyeongchang. He described winning the men’s downhill sitting as “the icing on the cake” of his career. “I risked everything on that run just then,” he said. “That was probably the run of my life, to be fair.”
These Games feature 564 Para athletes, matching the record for participation set at Pyeongchang in 2018. The number would have been higher but for the exclusion of the Russian and Belarusian delegations following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A record 138 women Para athletes are competing.
In Russia, state-run news agency Tass has reported that the Russian ministry of sport is planning an alternative Winter Paralympics event featuring the expelled Russian and Belarusian athletes, to be held in the venues which hosted the Games in Sochi in 2014. The Russian state channel Match TV has meanwhile declined to broadcast the Beijing Games, issuing a statement saying: “We express solidarity with our athletes – live broadcasting of the Paralympic Games has been cancelled.”