The penultimate day of the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games brought the first taste of gold and a bronze that felt like another gold for host South Korea. It was also the day that the host of the next Winter Games in Beijing claimed its first Winter Paralympics medal – and it too was gold.
With New Zealand and Croatia also celebrating their first gold medals in Winter Games history on Saturday (17 March), PyeongChang 2018 now enters the record books as the Games that saw more countries win medals than ever before. The previous record of 25 was set back at Lillehammer 1994; with one day of competition still to come PyeongChang 2018 already has 26 countries celebrating medal success.
The crowd at the Gangneung Hockey Centre – South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and First Lady Kim Jung-sook included – was both louder and more nervous than ever for the Para ice hockey bronze medal match against Italy.
The match was still goalless when the news from the Alpensia Biathlon Centre arrived. South Korea had won its first gold in Winter Paralympics history – in the men’s cross country 7.5km sitting race – with an athlete who had first dreamt of a career in wheelchair basketball.
“I don’t even know how I came into this sport but I am very happy for it,” said Sin.
“There was an announcement that I was five seconds behind and that’s the reason why I did my best in the last parts of the race. I told myself, ‘I can do it, I can do it, I can do it,’ and I think that’s the reason why I won the gold medal,” added Eui Hyun.
Around an hour later, back in Gangneung, the fans went wild when Jang Dong Shin scored 1-0 against Italy with 3:18 to the end of the match – a celebration that still had to wait for an official review. It was the best finish for both teams at a Paralympic Winter Games and an unforgettable Saturday afternoon for the hosts.
“Jung Seung Hwan gave me the pass, and after a moment he screamed, ‘It’s a goal, a goal’. I couldn’t believe it. I was just shocked and asked myself, ‘Really? It went in?’,” said Jang.
At the Gangneung Curling Centre the support of the home fans was not enough to get South Korea another bronze as the team lost to Canada 5-3 in the match for the third place.
The gold medal match had two first-time finalists and China, the host nation of the next Winter Paralympics in Beijing 2022, made history on ice against Norway.
It was necessary to contest an extra-end to determine the 6-5 victory that meant not only the first gold for China in Winter Games but indeed the first medal of any colour.
“All my friends and family were watching the TV to see this final,” said Wang Haitao.
At the Jeongseon Alpine Centre it was the final day of the men’s alpine skiing competition with the slalom sitting, standing and vision impaired events. Giacomo Bertagnolli gave Italy its second gold medal in the Games beating Slovakia’s Jakub Krako by 1.42 seconds in the men’s vision impaired.
Then came the men’s slalom standing and a win for an athlete who will also receive a very special prize on Sunday (18 March), the last day of the Games. New Zealand’s Adam Hall is one of the recipients of the 2018 Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award – given at each Games to the two athletes who best exemplify the Paralympic spirit and values.
Hall was honoured for his work to challenge perceptions about people with impairments in his country since his first Paralympic gold eight years ago in Vancouver. Now a 30-year-old, Hall took his second gold by a 0.39 seconds margin ahead of France’s Arthur Bauchet.
“I am going to be in shock for some time. I knew it was there for the taking and I had to just stick to my processes and put down the run of my life,” Hall said.
There was more first-time gold to come in the last run of the men’s slalom sitting. Dino Sokolovic gave Croatia its first-time Winter Paralympic champions. Four years ago in Sochi he finished only one of his four competitions. Now he made history in his country.
“I lost the gold medal in Sochi . I was first after first run and I fell like Jeroen [Kampschreur, who failed to finish his second run after leading run 1]. But I was focused, I was ready to fight, and I was preparing to fight, not just to ski but to go into a fight, and this was a fight,” Sokolovic said.
Back at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre the last day of the individual cross-country events saw Japan’s first medal in Para Nordic skiing in the 2018 Games with Yoshihiro Nitta in the men’s 10km standing.
Canada took two golds in a mixture of past, present and future. Brian McKeever won his 13th Paralympic gold in the men’s 10km vision impaired. Then 17-year-old Natalie Wilkie won her first gold in the women’s 7.5km standing.
USA’s Oksana Masters won her second cross-country gold, this time in the women’s 5km sitting and Belarus’ Sviatlana Sakhanenka made it three gold in three cross-country events with her win in the women’s 7.5km vision impaired.