BEIJING, March 14 (Xinhua) -- The Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, just like the Winter Olympics before them, have provided a tangible legacy that extends far beyond the sporting arena.
In these testing times, the fortitude, tenacity and ebullience of the Paralympians serve as a lesson that we can all heed.
One of the biggest surprises for many has been the outstanding performances of the host country's para athletes. Four years after winning its first-ever Winter Paralympic medal in PyeongChang, China dominated at these Games, with gold medals in alpine skiing, biathlon, cross country skiing, snowboarding, wheelchair curling as well as an unlikely bronze medal in ice hockey.
The latter came despite having fielded a para ice hockey team for the first time only six years ago.
The raft of medals won by China is due in no small part to the hard work of athletes. But it also reflects efforts to improve the wellbeing of people with disabilities and provide them with opportunities to achieve their goals.
"We have to really thank the country for investing so much in the athletic careers of people with disability and for creating such a good training environment for us," said ice hockey forward Wang Zhidong.
"Thanks to everyone on the team as well as our coaching staff for putting so much into guiding us."
The composition of China's ice hockey squad also bears testimony to the country's vision for a world free of stereotypes and inequality. This is because the team comprised Yu Jing, the only female para ice hockey player at Beijing 2022.
"If men can do it, so can women," Yu said. "I felt that I'm talented and had the confidence immediately. When females with disabilities see me on the ice, they know that there's a possibility for them too. It is an encouragement."
Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee (BOCOG) vice president Yang Shu'an said China understood that the Paralympic Games are not just about winning medals, but a stage upon which people with disabilities can express themselves and realize their dreams.
"With the economic and social development in China, there has been increasing care and support for para sports," Yang said. "People with disabilities have always been striving to be better, so it's a combination of factors," he added.
China had a record number of 96 athletes competing at the Paralympics as well as 121 support staff. According to International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Michael Parsons, the efforts by China to promote Paralympic sports and provide opportunities for those with disabilities ensured the country would continue to produce exceptional athletes.
"There's been a phenomenal change in Chinese Paralympic winter sports. Only China can deliver such a growth number. The future of Chinese Paralympic winter sports is going to be very similar to summer sports, with China becoming one of the leading nations in the Paralympic movement," he said.
IMPROVED INFRASTRUCTURE, FACILITIES
One of the highlights for para athletes at Beijing 2022 were the steps taken by BOCOG to create a barrier-free environment at each of the three competition zones in downtown Beijing, the capital's northwest Yanqing district and co-host Zhangjiakou, Hebei province.
"Based on the actual needs of the para athletes we made adjustments at all venues to ensure their safety and accessibility," BOCOG planning director Liu Yumin said.
"For example, we installed automatic doors at the entrances of the venues, barrier-free seats in the stands, barrier-free bathrooms and Braille signage in elevators. Another example is the audio notification system in use at the medical stations to help the visually impaired athletes."
It is this last point that most impressed Ileana Rodriguez, a paralympic swimmer and IPC accessibility specialist.
"A lot of the time we think that accessibility is only about mobility. We tend to forget about things for people with vision impairments to participate as well," Rodriguez said. "Some of the changes that needed to happen in the villages, for example, were the better signage BOCOG provided in the dining halls for the athletes to be able to see and select what they needed to eat. Another example is the tactile way-finding systems so that athletes can guide themselves around.
"We're going to leave a culture that is more open to have people with disabilities of being active and being part of the society, which I think is one of the best legacies that the Paralympic Games can leave. I hope that the Paralympic movement continues to do that same job not only here, but Beijing definitely is setting the bar for Milano-Cortina [the 2026 Paralympics]."
IPC communications officer Craig Spence said facilities built for athletes with disabilities would have a lasting impact on host cities.
"Accessibility at the Paralympic Games is a wonderful legacy. It not only benefits persons with disabilities but also persons without disabilities," Spence said.
"What's really exciting about the work here in Beijing is it's building on the legacy of the 2008 [Summer] Games. The Paralympic Games in 2008 and the Paralympic Winter Games in 2022 are really acting as this tremendous catalyst for improving accessibility in this country, and that can only be a real positive."
Parsons predicted that these Games would act as a benchmark for future editions of the Winter Paralympics.
"I think it shows the strength of the Paralympic movement, that we are getting stronger and stronger and more relevant."
BOCOG spokesperson Zhao Weidong agreed: "The Beijing Paralympic Winter Games have produced and will continue to produce various legacies. I think these legacies will further promote the development of sports for the disabled."
Arguably the most lavish praise for the Beijing 2022 Paralympics came from Switzerland's Theo Gmur after he took bronze in the men's downhill standing event.
"It was really so well organized. With the organization part, it was the best Games I have ever been to," he said. "I will try to come back to China for sure, but as a tourist, not as a skier with all the stress we had for the last two weeks.
"As an athlete, and as a Paralympian, we should do our best to just give some emotion back to the people who support us and show the younger generation that they can dream."