PYEONGCHANG (AFP) – The United States beat Canada with a dramatic overtime goal to win sledge hockey gold in Pyeongchang yesterday, a fitting finale to high-octane sporting action at the Winter Paralympics.
The curtain fell on the Paralympics at a closing ceremony in the evening, capping the nine-day Games that have featured sports ranging from vision-impaired skiing to wheelchair curling.
Team USA topped the medals table, with a total of 36 medals including 13 golds. Canada also did well, picking up eight golds while France and Germany won seven each.
The Winter Paralympics broke records with ticket sales topping 340,000. Its other standout moments ranged from North Korea’s debut to the many tales of disabled athletes fighting against the odds for sporting glory.
The sledge hockey final was the most hotly anticipated showdown of the Games, as defending Paralympic champions the United States took on reigning world champions Canada.
In the fast and furious sport, athletes with leg impairments are strapped into sledges and use two sticks to get around the rink and shoot.
Canada dominated in the early stages of the game. Billy Bridges scored in the first period and it looked like the Canadians were heading for gold as USA were unable to break through their defences.
But with just 37 seconds left on the clock, the USA’s Declan Farmer scored to send the match into overtime. Three minutes into extra time, Farmer sliced the puck between two defenders and into the net to carry the USA to a 2-1 victory.
It was the USA’s third straight ice hockey gold at a Paralympics, and fourth title overall.
“It’s an absolutely unbelievable feeling to rally from down one to winning in overtime,” said captain Josh Pauls.
Medals were also awarded yesterday in several categories of alpine skiing, with Britain, France and Germany winning gold, and cross-country skiing where Ukraine and France picked up gold.
North Korea was also in focus at the Paralympics, with Pyongyang sending two sit-skiers to the Games in the South – part of a major rapprochement that started at last month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
The athletes, Mu Yu Chol and Kim Jong Hyon, only began skiing three months ago and finished at or near the back of their two events, but were nevertheless welcomed by cheering South Korean fans.
But the North’s presence at the Paralympics was low-key – the two Koreas did not march together at the opening ceremony, as they did at the Olympics last month, and the North’s athletes and their delegation left before the end of the Paralympics.
Russia also loomed large at the Paralympics. Thirty Russians were allowed to compete but under a neutral flag as the country remains banned by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) due to a mass doping scandal.
It echoes the situation at last month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, where 168 Russian athletes passed as “clean” took part as neutrals – only for two of them to fail doping tests.
With 567 athletes competing at the Paralympics across six sports, there were numerous tales of triumph over adversity.
Dutch snowboarder Bibian Mentel-Spee won two gold medals despite having had cancer surgery twice in recent months. American skier Oksana Masters – born with multiple birth defects due to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster – also won double gold.