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Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Kiwis delight in Paralympics medal haul

Three athletes. Three Winter Paralympic medals, one of each colour.

Sound like bang for buck?

New Zealand certainly thinks so.

Watch the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games on Channel 7 and stream it for free on 7plus ,

Veteran stars Corey Peters and Adam Hall and debutant Aaron Ewen make up New Zealand’s entire team in Beijing.

So far, alpine skier Peters has claimed downhill sitting gold, blitzing an event he hadn’t raced for two years, and Super G silver, while his colleague Hall landed bronze in the standing super combined.

Hall still has the slalom, where he won gold in PyeongChang and Vancouver, to come on Sunday, as does Ewen.

“When you consider the size of the New Zealand team, a team of three Paralympians, it’s a ratio of one medal per Paralympian,” Paralympics New Zealand chief executive Fiona Allan told AAP.

“You might have the likes of China with (big medal tallies) but their team in comparison is much larger with 96 Paralympians.

“Looking across the board as we stand, New Zealand have more medals per athlete than any other nation bar Ukraine.”

The Kiwis have three times as many medals as Australia but, not one for gloating, Allan noted on the mountain: “The rivalry is strong, but off the field it isn’t”.

Both sides of the Tasman had to deal with travel restrictions through the pandemic.

All three Kiwi team members stayed in New Zealand until the World Cups in December and January, then a pre-Games training camp in the US last month.

It’s impossible to match the opportunity to compete year-round that many of Hall, Peters and Ewen’s opponents have enjoyed.

One way New Zealand attempted to bridge that gap was through virtual reality headsets that provided intel on the courses amid a lack of site visits.

“What it did afford our athletes to do was experience what the course could be like here up at Beijing,” Allan said.

“Virtual reality, while it would be good in any environment, it’s really come to the fore given we haven’t been able to travel.”

Hall credited the training with helping him pull off an epic slalom run to reach the super combined podium.

“You put the goggles on, and you have that sense of feel, smell. (It’s) pretty close to the real thing,” Hall said.

In the real world, nobody is more aware than Allan of the need to strike while the iron’s hot.

She hopes the brilliant medal surge will prompt eligible Kiwis to get involved in Paralympic sports, both winter and summer, and success can prompt more funding and resources.

New Zealand opening up will also help up-and-coming athletes compete overseas and gain much-needed ranking points to qualify for future Games, with Allan keen to see more women enter the Winter Paralympic fold.

But first, come Sunday’s slalom runs, and with them, potentially a medal-to-athlete ratio of 1.3:1, or maybe even more.

After all, these are Beijing’s great over-achievers.

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