Do you remember the winter of 2020?
Well before the world came to a crashing halt in mid-March, Canada’s winter Para athletes were producing some strong international performances.
Wheelchair curling was able to squeeze in its world championships, which concluded in early March in Wetzikon, Switzerland. That was good news for Canada as it won the silver medal to serve notice it is back in the hunt for a medal at the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.
The Canadian team, bronze medallist at the 2018 Paralympic Games, went into a funk when it placed 12th at the 2019 worlds and was forced to play in the B worlds to get back into the top group for 2020. It won the B worlds in late 2019.
At the 2020 worlds, skip Mark Ideson, Dennis Thiessen, Ina Forrest and Jon Thurston went 7-4 to stand third after the round robin. They defeated South Korea and Sweden in the playoffs before losing a 5-4 heartbreaker to Russia in the final.
Unfortunately, the inaugural World Para Snow Sport Championships have been postponed due to COVID. The competition was set to assemble to top athletes in Para alpine, snowboard and nordic in 2021. It has been rescheduled for January 2022, just a couple months before the Beijing Paralympics.
Before the pandemic, Canada’s Para alpine skiers were steamrolling through the 2019-2020 World Cup campaign, led by Mac Marcoux and his guide Tristan Rodgers. The pair won seven consecutive races on the circuit and Marcoux reached the magic plateau of 50 World Cup career wins. They were second overall in the Word Cup standings and first in the giant slalom season rankings.
Alexis Guimond and Kurt Oatway each finished in second in their respective categories, men’s standing and sitting, while Mollie Jepsen was ranked second in the women’s standing super G.
From the hills to the trails, Canada’s Para nordic skiers competed at a couple of World Cups early in the year. At age 40, Canada’s most successful winter Paralympian Brian McKeever enjoyed a solid start with two victories and four second-place finishes in eight World Cup races.
Mark Arendz, a record six-time medallist at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, collected two silver in standing biathlon races and Collin Cameron notched five medals in his nine World Cup sitting races.
Over in Para snowboard Sandrine Hamel was Canada’s top rider. She was on the podium in her six World Cup races which included five silver medals.
In Para ice hockey, Canada’s biggest tournament of the season was the Canadian Tire Para Hockey Cup in December 2019, hosted in Paradise, N.L., where it lost 2-1 in the final to the United States.
While it’s still unknown how many competition opportunities Canada’s winter Para athletes may have this season, it is certainly clear that they were on the right track in early 2020 – and they plan to stay there.