Paralympic Opening Ceremony highlighted by bold call for peace

Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics - Opening Ceremony
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The Winter Paralympics began with a 100-minute Opening Ceremony at Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium and a powerful speech lighting the way for nine days of medal competition that start Saturday.

China’s Li Duan, a four-time Paralympic champion between the long jump and triple jump, was the final torchbearer, placing his torch in the snowflake-shaped cauldron.

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Ukraine was the last team to arrive before the Opening Ceremony. Before marching into the open stadium, team members received applause from other athletes and held banners that read, “STOP WAR” and “PEACE FOR UKRAINE,” NBC Sports’ Carolyn Manno reported.

Ukraine was fourth in the Parade of Nations lineup about an hour later. Most of the delegation of 20 athletes and nine guides appeared to be marching. At least three members raised a fist in the air.

“It is a miracle that we have made it to the Paralympics,” Ukraine Paralympic Committee President Valerii Sushkevych said after the team arrived on Wednesday. “We are all thinking about our people in Ukraine because, boom, and they are killed, because thousands of people died so we ask all Europe, all world, stop the war. Together.”

International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons opened his speech in the stadium with a passionate call for peace.

“As the leader of an organization with inclusion at its core, where diversity is celebrated and differences embraced, I am horrified at what is taking place in the world right now,” he said. “The 21st century is a time for dialogue and diplomacy, not war and hate.”

Later in one segment, a short video titled “WeThe15” played, aiming to increase the visibility, accessibility and inclusion of the world’s 1.2 billion people with disabilities, or 15 percent of the global population.

Alpine skiers Danelle Umstead and Tyler Carter carried the U.S. flag into the stadium.

“So many emotions right now,” Carter said before marching. “It’s been such a hard journey to get to this Games. It’s been a crazy experience, and I’m loving every minute.”

Russia and Belarusian athletes were barred from the Games on Thursday. The Russian Paralympic Committee initially said it planned to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but on Friday said the IPC’s rules prevented them from doing so. It said its athletes will go home, and it may take legal action at a later date.

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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

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She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

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