100 days to go: Can Canada's Paralympic team surpass Sochi success?
There are plenty of Canadian athletes, storylines to watch for in March
The 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea are officially 100 days away, and Canadian sports fans have plenty to look forward to in March. The Games run from March 9-18 and will be streamed on CBC Sports.
Canada finished third in the medal standings at the 2014 Games in Sochi, earning 16 medals — including seven gold. Biathlete Brian McKeever earned three of those gold medals and is returning for his fifth Paralympics.
What else can Canadians expect from the country's Paralympians? Here's a look at the sports, storylines and stars to watch out for:
Sports to watch
The upcoming Paralympics feature six sports:
- Para ice hockey (formerly sledge hockey).
- Wheelchair curling.
- Para alpine skiing.
- Para snowboard.
- Para cross-country skiing.
- Para biathlon.
Canada earned at least one medal in five of those six sports in Sochi: para snowboarding, which was under the umbrella of para alpine in 2014, was the lone exception.
John Leslie was Canada's top finisher in the debut sport, placing seventh in the snowboard cross event. The snowboard program will expand from two to 10 events at these Games.
Within Winter Paralympic sports, there are classifications for athletes with leg impairments, arm impairments, combined impairments in arms and legs, visual impairments and sit-skiers in the alpine and nordic events. For example, Mark Arendz — who lost his arm in a farming accident as a child — competes in the standing category for biathlon; the sport also has sitting events and events for athletes with visual impairments.
Storylines to follow
There will inevitably be shocking upsets, photo finishes and the inevitable fallout from the ongoing Russian doping scandal at these Games. For now, here are some storylines that are worth keeping an eye on as the countdown continues.
Curling four-peat? Canada has won every Paralympic curling gold since its inception in 2006, but the world's fourth-ranked rink faces stiff competition from Russia, China and Norway.
Hockey's golden drought. It's been nearly 12 years since Canada last won gold in Torino, back when current captain Greg Westlake was a teenager and 2018 chef de mission Todd Nicholson was captain. The rival United States have won back-to-back Paralympic gold in the interim.
Canada's nordic duo. McKeever and Arendz are stars in their own right, and both are expected to contend for individual medals in cross-country in biathlon. There is, however, the possibility that the two could join forces in an open relay event, like the historic bronze they won with Emily Young and McKeever's guide Graham Nishikawa at the world championships in February.
Canada is sending approximately 55 athletes to Pyeongchang, and here are some names to watch once the Games begin:
Alpine skier Mac Marcoux won three medals, including giant slalom gold, at his debut Paralympics in 2014 as a 16-year-old. Marcoux, along with current guide Jack Leitch, is a multiple-medal favourite heading into Pyeongchang.
Westlake returns to lead Canada's hockey team, with young forwards like Liam Hickey complementing veterans Billy Bridges and Adam Dixon in coach Ken Babey's uptempo system. The team still needs to finalize its roster, including a tough decision in goal between "1A and 1B" netminders Dominic Larocque and Corbin Watson.
3-on-1 drill at <a href="https://twitter.com/HC_Sledge?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HC_Sledge</a> practice. Who wants it more?<br><br>(Also, great blocker save by the goalie at the end)<a href="https://twitter.com/CBCOlympics?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CBCOlympics</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/HockeyCanada?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HockeyCanada</a> <a href="https://t.co/N4Pu9uvtIw">pic.twitter.com/N4Pu9uvtIw</a>—@BenjaminKBlum
While Canada's curlers have yet to be confirmed for the Games, the quartet from the 2017 world championships brings plenty of Paralympic pedigree to the sheets. Jim Armstrong and Ina Forrest won gold in 2010 and 2014, with Mark Ideson winning in 2014; third Marie Wright rounds out a potential rink.
In snowboarding, Leslie is expected to be back for another shot at the podium, and he'll likely be joined by Michelle Salt and Alex Massie, who are coming off of strong seasons ahead of the Games.