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Winter Paralympics target lasting legacy for disabled

Sun Xiaochen
Updated: Nov 24,2021 09:20    China Daily

A hundred days out from the opening ceremony, Beijing is all set to deliver inclusive and accessible Paralympic Winter Games, with organizers focusing on their legacy to promote future participation in sports by disabled people.

Beijing, which previously hosted the Summer Paralympics in 2008, is gearing up to stage another Games with even higher standards of inclusiveness, accessibility and equality when the Winter Paralympics open on March 4.

Preparatory work for the 10-day Paralympics, which will be hosted in three areas downtown — Beijing, the capital's northwestern Yanqing district, and cohost Zhangjiakou in Hebei province — has shifted from facility readiness to operational tests.

Organizers and property owners have completed the five venues that will host six sports — Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, snowboarding, Para ice hockey and wheelchair curling — at the Paralympics, while temporary facilities for medical services, sports prosthetics maintenance, media operations and ceremonies are almost finished, the Beijing 2022 organizing committee said.

After hosting a series of international test events, including the World Wheelchair Curling Championship, organizers are now busy fine-tuning operational details and services to offer Paralympians better experiences based on feedback from the trials, said Yang Jinkui, director of the Beijing 2022 organizing committee's Paralympic department.

"I think we are almost ready now to host not just a barrier-free edition of the Paralympic Winter Games but also a warm return to Beijing for Paralympic athletes from around the world after learning and improving from the test events," Yang said last month during the wheelchair curling championship, which was held at Beijing's National Aquatics Center.

The aquatics center, nicknamed the "water cube" because it hosted Olympic and Paralympic swimming in 2008, has been repurposed into an "ice cube" for curling after the completion of an innovative project to fill the pool with removable steel structures topped with sheets of ice.

The transformed venue withstood intensive tests on the stability of the ice surface, delicate control of temperature and humidity, accessibility and COVID-19 protocols during the wheelchair curling event to make sure it was up to international standards, the team operating the venue said.

"The test event went quite successfully and shed light on the improvements that we need to make in the next step," said Yang Qiyong, general manager of the venue.

"The ability to shift between a swimming pool and an ice rink, coupled with two training rinks built in the underground space to the south of the main hall, will make our venue into a full-season sports facility for both able-bodied and disabled athletes."

Already an accessible venue, as were all projects built for the 2008 Games, the aquatics center will improve its facilities by measures such as replacing carpets in the main hall with rubber floor mats, widening aisles and building more ramps in the media zone to give wheelchair users a better experience, Yang added.

World Curling Federation president Kate Caithness heaped praise on the venue's readiness after an inspection visit for the test event last month.

"I was very impressed with the layout of the field of play, and was particularly impressed with the new giant screen," she said. "They have done an excellent job."

With preparations for the Paralympics gaining momentum as they enter the final stretch, Chinese organizers and sports promoters have set their sights on maximizing the event's impact on leveling the playing field so that more disabled sports lovers get involved in exercise on ice and snow, while raising awareness of the need for equal access to training facilities, especially in winter sports, beyond 2022.

Managed by the China Disabled Persons' Federation, a newly built winter sports training base for disabled athletes has been operating since the end of last year, laying a foundation for more talented people with disabilities across the country to be identified and trained.

For the general public, Beijing 2022 organizers released an illustrated version of barrier-free service guidelines in September last year that detailed the renovation of urban infrastructure to provide greater accessibility during the Games and beyond.

Since November 2019, Beijing has repaired 7,031 sidewalk sections for visually impaired pedestrians and renovated Braille signs at 11,911 bus stops, subway stations and parking lots, according to the city's disabled persons' federation.

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