Gold medalist Ji Lijia, silver medalist Wang Yaopeng(L) and bronze medalist Zhu Yonggang of China pose for photos during the awarding ceremony for Para Snowboard Men's Snowboard Cross SB-UL event of Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games at Zhangjiakou Medals Plaza in Zhangjiakou, north China's Hebei Province, March 7, 2022. (Xinhua/Hu Chao)
A podium sweep shows China's dominance in Para snowboard cross men's SB-UL.
CHONGLI, Zhangjiakou, March 7 (Xinhua) -- China savored a history-making moment in Para snowboard cross when its young Paralympic debutants made a podium sweep in the men's SB-UL in the Beijing Paralympic Winter Games here on Monday.
The miracle started from the quarterfinals in which Ji Lijia, 19, Wang Pengchao, 21, Zhu Yonggang, 19, and Zhang Yiqi, 17, finished top of each of their races. An all-Chinese big final came out after Ji and Zhu earned a one-two finish in the first semifinal, followed by another one-two by Wang and Zhang in the second semifinal.
Para snowboarders of China celebrate after the Men's Cross UL event of Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, north China's Hebei Province, March 7, 2022. (Xinhua/Xue Yuge)
In the middle of the big final, Zhang, who was lying third, lost his balance and fell down, knocking down his close follower Zhu. Ji thus beat Wang to clinch the gold. Zhu eventually got the bronze.
This is China's seventh gold at the ongoing Beijing Winter Paralympics.
Ji Lijia (2nd L), Wang Pengyao (1st L), Zhang Yiqi(1st R) and Zhu Yonggang of China compete during the Para Snowboard Men's Cross UL big final of Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, north China's Hebei Province, March 7, 2022. (Xinhua/Song Yanhua)
Ji, who took up the sport in 2016, said, "I did not expect to get this gold medal. I am satisfied with what I did in the semifinal. And surprisingly, I saw us - four Chinese athletes in the big final. We were really happy. It still feels like a dream."
"Six years of effort finally paid off today. It is so great to win glory for my motherland, which takes great care of the disabled," he added.
On whether snowboarding is a sport for young people, Ji said, "It's for young people, absolutely, but it's also for everyone. The sport can make people open-minded and passionate."
Ji Lijia (R) and Wang Pengyao of China compete during the Para Snowboard Men's Cross UL big final of Beijing 2022 WinterParalympic Games at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, north China's Hebei Province, March 7, 2022. (Xinhua/Xue Yuge)
Wang, who started the sport in 2017 at age 17, said, "I really enjoyed the competition. The most unforgettable thing would be the big final. I raced with my teammates. These awards belong to our home country. And my appreciation goes to my coaches who helped me make progress step by step."
Zhu, who joined the national team in 2017, said, "I had a tough time in the semifinal and big final. I overcame them with my strong mind. I want to present the gift (medal and mascot) to my little sister. She encouraged me a lot every day. She sent me WeChat messages before my race, which gave me confidence."
The top three are all from China's Hebei Province, where the Genting Snow Park, one of the Olympic and Paralympic competition zones, is located.
"It is wonderful to compete on home snow and take medals for our home province," Zhu noted.
Para snowboard was originally known as adaptive snowboarding. The first official competition in the sport was held in the United States in 2000. And a campaign began in 2005 for its inclusion in the Paralympic Winter Games.
Following its Paralympic Games debut at Sochi 2014, the sport's program was expanded to 10 events at PyeongChang 2018. Banked slalom was added, along with new categories in the snowboard cross event.
China entered its first Paralympic snowboard athletes at PyeongChang 2018. Sun Qi and Liu Gengliang finished 11th and 14th respectively among 20 racers in the banked slalom SB-LL2. The pair finished 12th and 13th respectively in the snowboard cross SB-LL2.
China also had two athletes compete in the SB-UL category in both the men's banked slalom and snowboard cross events in PyeongChang. Jiang Zihao and Chen Zhuo finished ninth and 13th in the former, and 11th and 12th in the latter.
China, which upscaled its Para snowboarding program, now has 18 snowboarders for Beijing 2022. (by Pan Yi, Zhang Rongfeng, Shu Wen, Zheng Zhi, Zhu Qing, Liu Bo) ■