From history-making performances to emotional moments that transcended sports and one very adorable, medal-winning dog — the 2022 Paralympic Games undoubtedly had a little bit of everything.
While it would be impractical to list all of the incredible athletes and achievements that transpired over the past two weeks, here’s a handful of moments to remember from Beijing:
The strength of the Ukrainian athletes
For the Ukrainians competing, the Games were a chance to provide hope and pride for their nation during the devastating Russian invasion of the country.
They did just that and more.
Ukrainian Paralympic committee president Valeriy Sushkevych said it was a « miracle » the athletes were able to be there at all as many of the team members « had difficulties escaping the bombs. » But, according to him, that made it all the most important for the contingent to compete.
« A superpower wants to destroy my country, » Sushkevych said. « And our presence here at the Paralympic Games, it’s not just a presence. It’s a sign that Ukraine was, is, and will remain a country. For us, it is a matter of principle to be here, it’s a symbol to show that Ukraine is alive. »
On the first day of competition, the country recorded seven medals. It ultimately finished in second-place in the overall medal count with 29, behind only host-nation China, and recorded three podium sweeps in biathlon events.
« We would like to dedicate our results and medals to each and every Ukrainian and all the soldiers in the Ukrainian army who protect us, » said Iryna Bui, who won gold in the women’s 10 kilometers standing biathlon competition, according to Japan’s Kyodo News. « With our performance we represent the whole country and this is our battle, here. »
— Reuters (@Reuters) March 4, 2022
The ultimate champion
The term GOAT gets thrown around a lot in sports, and Oksana Masters is truly worthy of such a title. The 32-year-old won seven medals (three gold, four silver) in Beijing in biathlon and cross-country events for a total of 16(!) career Paralympic medals, across the Winter and Summer Games. She now has the most podium appearances ever by an American Paralympian and earned the distinction for the most medals by a Paralympian in a single Winter Games in history.
She celebrated with teammates after winning her final medal — a gold, fittingly — in Beijing on Sunday during the cross-country mixed relay.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) March 13, 2022
Masters was born in Ukraine and was adopted from an orphanage as a seven-year-old and brought to the United States. She said she was proud to represent both countries during the Games and knew her participation at the event was far more significant than herself and her individual goals.
« Every pole stroke, I will be racing for the families and kids in Ukraine with disabilities, » Masters wrote on Instagram. « While the Ukrainian people are fighting for their homes and peace, I want to make every start line and finish line mean something much bigger than a race or a result. I want to help make sure no child is forgotten. »
A surprise podium appearance
Cross-country skier Carina Edlinger and her guide, Josef Lorenz Lampl, earned the bronze medal in the vision-impaired middle distance free event on Saturday — and made room for extra participant to celebrate with them on the podium.
Riley, Edlinger’s adorable canine companion, stood between the pair and she even presented him with a medal of his own.
There’s one more medalist on this podium!
When Austria’s Carina Edlinger and her guide Josef Lorenz were awarded their Paralympic bronze medals, Edlinger took out a medal from her pocket to give to her guide dog, Riley.@Paralympics | #WinterParalympics pic.twitter.com/2zRoOqP9Gi
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) March 13, 2022
Edlinger had to fight for Riley to be granted permission to make the trip, and she was grateful he was able to. After she and Lampl nabbed the gold earlier in the week in the vision impaired sprint, Edlinger paid tribute to Riley, and his sudden-superstar status, in an interview with the Austrian Paralympic Committee.
« I would definitely not have flown without him, that was my criterion, » she said. « I certainly didn’t make it easy for the [Austrian Paralympic Committee] because they had to set a lot in motion. But it paid off.
« Every volunteer has now taken a selfie with him, it seems to me he’s more famous in the Paralympic Village than the Chinese President. Everyone waves to him and shouts after him, that’s nice. I’m almost used to being number two. »
Ahh, the life of Riley.
Prior to the start of the Games, American alpine skier Tyler Carter announced it would be his third and final Paralympics. His teammates made sure to give him a goodbye he would remember.
The 28-year-old was named a flag-bearer for the opening ceremonies, alongside fellow skier Danelle Umstead, and the two were both overwhelmed with emotion when hearing the news.
— Team USA (@TeamUSA) March 2, 2022
Carter, who competed in the downhill, giant slalom, super-G and super combined in Beijing, couldn’t hide his feelings as the end of his competitive career near.
We’re not crying, you’re crying!@tcski2014 shares his thoughts and feelings as he prepares to call it a wrap on his Paralympic career.
— US Paralympics Alpine Skiing (@USParaAlpineSki) March 8, 2022
After his final race, he tweeted « Really emotional day… Goodbyes are hard but still smiling » and then he processed and celebrated his retirement with some much-deserved ice cream found in the Paralympic Village.
The incredible Aigner family
There are a lot of successful siblings in sports — Serena and Venus Williams, Peyton and Eli Manning, Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko — and after these Paralympic Games, Veronika, Elisabeth, Barbara and Johannes Aigner of Austria should be included on every such list .
During the vision impaired giant slalom, Veronika and Elisabeth, who was her guide, earned gold, and Barbara (and her guide, Klara Sykora) took home the bronze. For those keeping track, that means half of the athletes on the podium had the Aigner surname.
Just days later, the sisters had another family reunion on the Paralympic podium with Veronika and Elisabeth winning gold, and Barbara and Sykora notching the silver, in the vision impaired slalom race.
« I cried at the flower ceremony because I’m so happy to win with my sisters, » said Elisabeth. « All of us cried at the ceremony. »
Something special for the Aigner family album….
— Paralympic Games (@Paralympics) March 12, 2022
And while their 16-year-old brother Johannes couldn’t share a podium with them, he did pretty well for himself in Beijing too, earning five medals, including two golds.
And Barbara said the Aigners were far from done.
« It’s very special, » she said after securing her second medal. « We enjoyed every moment of this run because we’re going to have it in four years again. »