China have won a raft of medals at the Beijing Winter Paralympics but a bronze in ice hockey, which they achieved by beating South Korea on Saturday (March 12), could end up being the most memorable simply due to their lack of pedigree in the sport.
The hosts did not have a para ice hockey team until just over five years ago and the crushing 4-0 win over South Korea confirmed their arrival as one of the sport’s new powers amid euphoric scenes at the capital’s National Indoor Stadium.
“We formed the team in 2016 and we’ve basically been training behind closed doors since,” said forward Wang Zhidong.
“We didn’t go home for about three years—all because we were chasing this dream. To be able to achieve this result today, we’re all very emotional and happy.”
China’s rise has been masterminded by Russian coach Nikolay Sharshukov, who has drilled them into a fast and physically strong team that have quickly emerged as one of the stories of the tournament.
“We have to really thank the country for investing so much in the athletic careers of people with disability and for creating such a good training environment for us,” added Wang.
“Thanks to everyone on the team as well as our coaching team for putting so much into guiding us.”
China were unbeaten in the group stage and edged Czech Republic in the quarter-finals before going out to three-time defending champions United States in the last four.
The Americans, however, were impressed by their opponents despite the easy win.
“A couple of more years and they’re going to be a very, very good team,” forward Joshua Misiewicz told Reuters. “I think we just outplayed them skill-wise but in some time, they’re going to be fighting for gold.”
China were probably helped by the fact they were relative unknowns coming into the event, with US forward Declan Farmer saying many sides did not know what to expect, especially with the home crowd behind them.
“Even though we were confident of ourselves, you never know… but it’s great for parity to have more teams at the top contending,” he said.