OTTAWA – Nineteen Canadian athletes, including two guides, won their first career medal at the Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang this year. Of that group, 12 were under the age of 25 with five still teenagers.
That youth movement made a huge impact on Canada’s record performance at the Games, which consisted of 28 medals (eight gold, four silver, and 16 bronze) for second place in total medals behind the United States. This bodes well for Canada’s medal chances four years from now as well, when Beijing hosts the Winter Paralympics in 2022.
The youngest member on the Canadian Paralympic Team was 17-year-old Natalie Wilkie of Salmon Arm, B.C., who collected a stunning three medals in Para nordic cross-country skiing – gold in the 7.5 kilometre, silver in the relay, and bronze in the 1.5 kilometre.
Wilkie, who lost four fingers on her left hand in a school workshop accident in 2016, will also start to compete in biathlon this season, which augurs well for even more impressive Games performances in the future.
The Para nordic team led Canada’s medal parade with 16 podium appearances. With veterans Mark Arendz and Brian McKeever showing the example, Collin Cameron of North Bay, Ont., Emily Young of North Vancouver, and Brittany Hudak of Saskatoon, all under 30, earned their first Games medal. One of McKeever’s guides, Russell Kennedy, also clinched his maiden Paralympic medal.
There were also impressive teenage performances in Para alpine skiing and Para ice hockey.
On the slopes, 18-year-old Mollie Jepsen of Whistler burst on the international scene with four medals, collecting gold in the super combined, silver in slalom, and bronze in the downhill and giant slalom.
Nineteen-year-old Alexis Guimond of Gatineau, Que. and Calgarians Kurt Oatway and Alana Ramsay also collected their first Paralympic Games medals. Joining them as first-timers was Jack Leitch, the guide of Mac Marcoux, who has since retired to go back to school.
The Para ice hockey team included seven first-time medallists on their silver squad: Rob Armstrong, Dominic Cozzolino, James Dunn, Tyrone Henry, Liam Hickey, Bryan Sholomicki, and Corbyn Smith. Besides Sholomicki, the other six were all 24 or under including Dunn (17) and Hickey (19).
In wheelchair curling, Marie Wright and James Anseeuw made their Paralympic debuts and helped Canada to the bronze medal.