An eventful Paralympic Winter Games came to an end this Sunday. But if you look at the medal table, the Games left an unpleasant aftertaste. The Chinese were clear winners with 61 medals won. This result has not only surprised the experts but also the competitors.
A country dominated by the Paralympics has not played a significant role in para winter sports before. China has won only one medal since the Games were first held in 1976. Four years ago, they won gold in wheelchair curling.
The drastic increase in performance this year surprised the experts and raised questions. The competitors are also looking critically at China’s success.
The focus here is once again on classification. Depending on the degree of their disability, Para athletes are divided into different classes to ensure equal opportunities despite the various degrees of disability. Experts usually classify the athletes at international competitions.
But the Chinese have not participated in these before the Paralympics in their own country. Therefore, they classified their athletes themselves behind closed doors.
During the competition, experts wondered about conspicuousness in some sports concerning the classification of Chinese athletes. DBS President Friedhelm Julius Beucher said: “They put in top performances. Whether it was in the right class, I dare to doubt.”
The winner of the cross-country sprint in the seated class Yang, for example, was able to move her upper body much more unrestrictedly than is typical for the category which she competed in.
Classifications are a problem in para-sports. While they are supposed to make each sport competitive and fair, they sometimes have the opposite effect. This is an important issue here the IPC needs to improve and set uniform rules to make the sport more fair.
But the excellent performance of the Chinese is not only due to questionable classifications but also to the winter sports boom in China. After the Chinese knew they would host the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, they turned their attention to winter sports.
Better infrastructure and new facilities have been built. In addition, international winter sports companies expanded their market in China.
More Chinese have ventured into the snow and discovered their passion for winter sports. This commitment has already paid off at the Winter Olympics, where China came third in the medal table behind Norway and Germany.
Yet, astonishingly, in Chinese culture, where a child is born with disability, it is believed to be a punishment for a past life. Although about 83 million people with disabilities live there, they are still treated differently.
At the Games, the Chinese para-athletes have now shown that they can achieve something and can successfully represent their country at the international stage. They are an essential part of the Chinese population.
Nothing can be done because the Chinese have won the most medals at the Paralympics in their own country, even if the classification system should be worked on. But maybe this victory can change the reputation of the disabled Chinese in their home country and thus bring about something positive. Only the future will show whether this is the case.