OTTAWA – If early results are any indication Canadian Para athletes are primed and ready for a memorable winter season which gets into full swing next week.
Last season at the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing, the Canadians delivered a brilliant performance ranking third in the medal standings with eight gold, six silver and 11 bronze for 25 in total.
There were key retirements after Beiing, including Brian McKeever, Canada’s most successful winter Paralympian who hung up his skis after six Games dominating Para nordic cross country skiing for the visually impaired.
But the future already appeared bright in Beijing with 12 Canadians earning a first Paralympic Games medal and 37 of the 48 team members on the podium. Here is an update and what to watch for over the next three months in Paralympic sports.
Para nordic skiing
The first Para nordic World Cup of the 2022-23 season was held in December in Vuokatti, Finland and the Canadians took home a whopping 22 medals.
Twenty-one-year-old Natalie Wilkie of Salmon Arm, B.C., already a two-time Paralympian, and Christina Picton of Fonthill, Ont., won five medals each to lead the charge. Brittany Hudak of Prince Albert, Sask., Collin Cameron of Bracebridge, Ont., four-time Paralympian Mark Arendz of Canmore, Alta., and Lyne-Marie Bilodeau of Sherbrooke, Que., with her first career medal, also reached the podium.
Coming up are the Para nordic world championships set for January 21-29 in Ostersund, Sweden and a season ending World Cup March 1-8 at Soldier Hollow, Utah.
Para alpine skiing
The Para alpine skiing World Cup season also got underway in December with the opening stops in St. Moritz, Switzerland and Steinach Am Brenner, Austria. Alexis Guimond of Gatineau, Que., took the bronze in the men’s standing giant slalom in St.Moritz while Frederique Turgeon of Candiac, Que., was impressive in her first races since knee surgery last spring with four fourth place finishes.
The world championships are set for January 19-29 in Espot, Spain while the World Cup season continues with stops January 10-14 in Veysonnaz, Switzerland, February 6-11 in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria, February 27-28 in Kitzbuehel, Austria, March 7-12 Sella Nevea, Italy and the final March 13-17 in Cortina, Italy.
Big White in British Columbia hosted the season opening World Cup in Para snowboard December 20 with a men’s and women’s banked slalom race. Lisa DeJong of Saskatoon, Canada’s first-ever Paralympic Games medallist in the sport in Beijing, took gold in the women’s event while Sandrine Hamel of St-Sauveur, Que., added a bronze.
The world championships are January 21-29 in La Molina, Spain while World Cup stops are set for January 12-14 in Pyhatunturi, Finland, February 2-4 in Cortina, Italy, February 17-19 in Grasgehren, Germany and March 13-19 in Colere, Italy.
Note: Even though they are being held at different venues, the Para nordic, Para alpine and Para snowboard worlds are all part of the FIS Para Snow Sports World Championships that will take place in late January.
The International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS) became the the governing body of Para Alpine skiing, Para cross-country skiing and Para snowboard in July 2022.
The first Para Snow Sports worlds were held in January 2022 at Lillehammer, Norway.
The World Wheelchair Curling Championship and World Wheelchair Mixed Doubles Curling Championship will be held at the Richmond (B.C.) Curling Centre. Both championships will run simultaneously from 4–12 March.
The five players who won Paralympic bronze for Canada in wheelchair curling this past winter in Beijing were named in October to the 2022-23 national team squad by Curling Canada. They are Ina Forrest, Dennis Thiessen, Mark Ideson, Jon Thurston, and Collinda Joseph. They are joined by 2018 Paralympic bronze medallists Marie Wright and Jamie Anseeuw, and newcomer Gil Dash.
The final rosters for the mixed doubles and quartet are to be announced in the upcoming weeks.
Para ice hockey
Para ice hockey
Last month Canada won the silver medal at the Para Hockey Cup held in Bridgewater, N.S. to open the 2022-23 season. There are no world championships this year, they are held every two years, but there are tournaments scheduled for both the national team and developmental team through to May.
The Citi Para Swimming World Series is set to run from February to November in nine cities in the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. The circuit will have a new format and more events.
Melbourne, Australia, which will feature Canadians including Aurélie Rivard, will kick off the season from February 17 to 19 followed by Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy and Sheffield, England in March.