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Beijing Winter Paralympics – Let the games commence!

a wall with Beijing 2022 wording and the Olympic rings
a wall with Beijing 2022 wording and the Olympic rings Image credit: svgeurope.org

After a controversial build-up this week the Beijing Winter Paralympics opening ceremony takes place later today, Friday March 4.

Russian and Belarusian athletes will no longer be permitted to take part in the games due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) initially announced on Wednesday Russia and Belarus could participate as neutrals, but were force to retract their decision within twenty four hours after they were criticised for making the decision.

Ukraine athletes are competing in the games despite concerns they would not be able to travel. Ukrainian Paralympic chief, Valeriy Sushkevych, said their presence was a "symbol that Ukraine is alive".

Today’s opening ceremony will be held at the Bird’s Nest Stadium attended by dignitaries including Chinese president Xi Jinping.

The 13th edition of the Winter Paralympics will see over 600 athletes from 46 delegations competing for 78 gold medals across six sports - alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, Para-ice hockey, snowboard and wheelchair curling.

Three teams from Azerbaijan, Israel and Puerto Rico will make their Winter Paralympic debuts this year with Liechtenstein returning to the games for the first time since 1994.

Estonia and Latvia are also back at the games since 2002 and 2006 respectively.

The indoor events, curling and ice hockey, will take place in Beijing as well as the opening and closing ceremonies.

Alpine skiing events are taking place Yanqing and the mountains of Zhangjiakou will play host to snowboarding, biathlon and cross-country.

One of the GB athletes to watch is Menna Fitzpatrick who hopes to defend his title as Britain’s most successful Paralympian.

Millie Knight and Brett Wild hope to equal or better their two silver and bronze medals they won at the last Games for GB.

Another GB athlete to keep an eye open for is Hope Gordon, she will make history becoming Britain’s first Nordic skier when she competes in the cross-country events

"This team promises to be our most competitive across a wider range of sports and events than ever before," said GB chef de mission Phil Smith.

"After what has happened in the build-up, we are ready go out and compete and focus on the athletes and sports and are looking forward to using Beijing to build on the success of the past two Paralympic Winter Games."

It will be an emotional event for Canadian Brian McKeever. The athlete, who has vision loss, is the most decorated male cross-country Paralympian of all time with 17 medals, including 13 golds. This will be his final Paralympics.

Given the circumstances one athlete who will have an emotional games is Oksana Masters, who was born in Ukraine before moving to the USA since the age of seven.

Masters will compete in the biathlon and cross-county events after winning two golds, two silvers and a bronze Pyeongchang and two golds in hand-cycling at last year’s rescheduled Tokyo Games.

The Beijing Winter Paralympics take place between March 4 and March 13.