These women have absolutely crushed it at the Games so far.
No, this isn’t a fever dream: we’re still being treated to winter sports in Beijing. The 2022 Paralympic Games kicked off on Friday, and things have already gotten interesting. The complete exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes will most likely dominate headlines, but beyond that, several athletes have already made names for themselves in Beijing––and have grabbed a medal or two. Or three. Or four…
Anyways, here are four MVPs of this year’s Paralympic Games thus far:
Cécile Hernandez (FRA, snowboarder)
Plenty of athletes treat the Games as a battle for victory, but Cécile Hernandez had to fight to even participate. First, her disability class in the snowboard cross event was nixed due to a lack of athletes available to compete. Then, the IPC barred her from switching to the LL2 division––despite the fact that she’d be at a disadvantage against LL2 snowboarders. But Hernandez successfully appealed the IPC’s decision in court, allowing her to compete in the Games. And spoiler alert: she crushed it. She cruised through the qualifying phase, and edged out Lisa DeJong (CAN) for the gold.
“It is unbelievable. I still do not realize what happened,” she said after her victory. “To do everything I did to be here and then to earn this gold medal, it was a dream, and now that dream has come true.” She’s certainly right about one thing: her winning a Paralympic gold medal just days after her participation was in doubt is nothing short of a dream, and it speaks to the magic of these Games.
Honorable Mentions: While none of the medal-awarding hockey matches have been played yet, Yu Jing (CHN, hockey) has already made history as just the third woman to compete in the event. Brenna Huckaby (USA, snowboarder) also warrants a shoutout; she won bronze in the LL2 snowboard cross, despite having to go through legal troubles similar to Hernandez’s.
Sydney Peterson (USA, nordic skier)
Peterson’s Paralympics campaign has been semi-outshined by other American heavy hitters, such as Oksana Masters and Kendall Gretsch. This is a shame, since her journey to the Games has been a pretty interesting one. She won two medals in the 1.5 km classical and sprint standing events, which is notable in itself. But here’s the real kicker: Peterson only started competing internationally in December.
Per Team USA reporter Chrös McDougall, Peterson skied at the collegiate level before being noticed by the U.S. Paralympic Nordic Skiing federation. What followed was a whirlwind of success and accolades, including three World Championship honors. Now, just a month after her exploits in Lillehammer, she’s an Olympic medalist.
“I never expected to be here. This opportunity to race has been an amazing experience,” said Peterson to NBC after her silver medal win. It’s a testament to her adaptability and skill that she was able to take advantage of that opportunity in such a short time. Life came at her fast, but she was (literally) much faster.
Guo Yujie (CHN, biathlete)
The reason why Guo Yujie is an undisputed MVP of the Games is best described in her own words:
“After the [opening] ceremony, I came back after midnight and got up late this morning at almost 9:30, so it was beyond my expectation to take the gold.”
And what did she do in the face of disaster? She won the event anyway––without even realizing it.
“I didn’t know [that I was in the lead] at all [after the first shooting]. When I skied uphill, my coach told me that I was in first, but I didn’t believe it. I thought he was lying to motivate me to ski fast. Then at the last sprint, he told me that I was in first place.”
Staying up late, sleeping through your alarm, and somehow just barely getting the job done…it sounds like the life of a burnt-out college student instead of a Paralympian. Athletes––they’re just like us.
Every Ukrainian Athlete
For Ukrainian Paralympians, showing up to the Games was a victory in itself. The fact that they weathered truly nightmarish conditions on their way to Beijing––and had to leave their families behind while doing so––shows an unfathomable level of resilience and strength.
“Our presence at the Paralympics is not merely a presence,” claimed UPC president Valeriy Sushkevych. “This is a sign that Ukraine is and will remain a country.”
In a heart-warming development, their victory didn’t stop there. Iryna Bui, Oleksandra Kononova and Liudmyla Liashenko (UKR, biathletes) swept the women’s biathlon 10km standing podium, with all five Ukrainian athletes finishing in the top ten. Furthermore, skier Oksana Shyshkova clinched two golds and two silvers, adding to her already impressive medal haul. In the midst of a major Olympic truce violation committed against their homeland, these Ukrainian athletes embodied the motto of the Games: “faster, higher, stronger–together.” Isn’t that what being an MVP is all about?
A full schedule of the 2022 Beijing Paralympic Games can be found here.