By Mackenzie White
Despite what most Canadians may believe, many of this country’s premier amateur athletes have only just left Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Two weeks after their compatriots flew back home to a well-deserved heroes’ welcome, 55 other world-class Canadian athletes participated in the six-sport 2018 Winter Paralympic Games, winning 28 medals.
While CBC, Radio-Canada and other broadcasting partners dedicated more than 500 hours of coverage on TV and online, the Paralympians who set a new national record for success at the Games have since returned to relative anonymity on this side of the world.
The CBC even appeared to acknowledge this, with an online column published March 10 under the headline: “Struggle with Paralympic exposure in Canada nothing new.”
A glance at CBC.ca’s sports section the day after the Games closed saw only one Paralympic story, buried behind high-profile coverage of March Madness and NHL playoff races.
You’d be much more likely to find hockey fans familiar with the stats and stories of Winter Olympians (and non-NHLers) such as Chay Genoway or Maxim Noreau than you would find Canadians who know about our Para ice hockey players — and now silver medallists — Ben Delaney and Tyrone Henry, both Ottawa natives.
While the world keeps falling in love with our Olympic champion ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir during their retirement tour (complete with a stop on The Ellen Degeneres Show), 38-year-old cross-country skier and biathlete Brian McKeever became Canada’s most decorated Paralympian ever, adding three golds and a bronze at Pyeongchang to reach a lifetime haul of 17 medals.
It’s understandable, perhaps, that Canadians suffered Olympic fatigue after two straight weeks of staying up well past their bedtimes.
But for patriotic Canadians and sports fans of all nationalities, the Paralympic Games were no less compelling than those held two weeks prior. This was still best-against-best competition, and those who paid attention saw a lot of dramatic results and poignant storylines.
McKeever, for example, who was also Canada’s flag bearer for the opening ceremony, earned a rare “triple treble” in Pyeongchang — a gold medal sweep in all three individual men’s cross-country events for the third straight Paralympics, a virtually unprecedented display of domination for any Canadian athlete in any sport in any era.
Delaney, Henry and the rest of the men’s Para ice hockey team settled for their silver after an extra-time heartbreaker to the U.S. — the same outcome experienced by the Canadian women’s Olympic team in their gold-medal game.
There was even another “burned rock” controversy in the Paralympics — this one in wheelchair curling — just like the one that plagued Team Canada skip Rachel Homan of the Ottawa Curling Club.
Paralympic athletes should not be defined by their disabilities but by their accomplishments. Competitors like Mark Arendz — the first Canadian to win six medals at a Winter Paralympics — or 18-year-old alpine skier Mollie Jepsen (gold, silver and two bronze) should absolutely be household names in this country.
Pyeongchang marked the 30th anniversary of the ’88 Seoul Games, the first time the Olympics and Paralympics were held at the same venue. Olympic athletes face a hard enough time gaining recognition in Canada, but the challenge is far greater for their Paralympic counterparts.
We should treat all of Canada’s world-class amateur athletes — Olympians and Paralympians alike — with the same level of respect and admiration. Let’s not wait until 2022 to do so.