Joe Howard of the United States celebrates a gold-medal win against Norway in sledge hockey during the Salt Lake City Winter Paralympic Games in Utah in 2002.
Joe Howard of the United States celebrates a gold-medal win against Norway in sledge hockey during the Salt Lake City Winter Paralympic Games in Utah in 2002. - 

The opening ceremony of the Winter Paralympic Games was Friday morning in Pyeongchang, South Korea. You’d be forgiven for missing it.

The start of this year’s games aired at 6 a.m. Eastern time on NBC Sports, a relatively new channel that’s pretty high on the dial for folks who haven’t yet cut the cord.

Like the recently wrapped Winter Olympics, the Paralympics are airing live overnight thanks to the time difference, spread across several different cable networks and streaming platforms. Unlike the Olympics, NBC itself is only showing the games in prime time twice: one highlight package for the first day of competition and another at the very end.

It’s worth making the effort to watch, because there’s a lot to like about the Paralympics, even during the smaller Winter Games. It’s five of the best-known Winter Olympic sports, with variations to accommodate differently abled athletes and showcase their unique abilities. Take snowboarding, which was just added and swept by the U.S. team.

Or para hockey, which is just as physical as the game you’re used to, but it’s played on specialized sleds just a couple inches off the ice. Same with downhill skiing, where competitors sit atop one ski. We’ll be talking more about the technology at play at Marketplace Tech next week. For now, let’s do the numbers

  • NBC’s various TV channels are carrying 94 hours of coverage, nearly double the Sochi games, all available to stream with more on Here’s a schedule. It’s also available to watch at the Paralympics website.
  • 567 athletes from 48 countries will compete in this year’s games, according to the BBC. That’s up from 547 in 2014 (2,922 competed in the Winter Olympics).
  • They’ll perform in six sports: the aforementioned snowboarding, hockey and downhill skiing, plus cross-country skiing, biathlon and wheelchair curling.
  • Athletes are divided into 80 events according to ability — one or both legs impaired, blind versus sighted and so on.
  • The Paralympic committee is adding bobsleds to the games in 2022, modified with a sort of launcher for athletes who can’t run and hop into the sled.
  • The Summer Games have 22 sports, including two, boccia and goalball, created just for disabled athletes. Those games are also open to a wider variety of disabilities.
  • Russia dominated the last Winter Games, taking home 80 medals compared to 15 for second-place Germany. But the Russian doping scandal touched the Paralympics as well, and the country is banned from this year’s games, as it was from the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. Similar to the Olympics, the Paralympics will let in a small number of Russians, though they’ll be identified only as “Neutral Paralympic Athletes.”
  • North Korea is competing in the Winter Games for the first time, along with Georgia and Tajikistan. One South Korean hockey player, Choi Kwang-hyouk, escaped from the North as a child.
  • The first Paralympic Games were held in Rome in 1960, with the first Winter Games following in 1976 in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. But according to the International Paralympic Committee, its origins date back to 1940s Britain, where the Stoke Mandeville Hospital organized competitive sports to rehabilitate injured servicemen.
  • The International Paralympic Committee told CNN this year’s games are closer to sold out than the Olympics were, though the number of actual tickets is quite a bit lower: 275,000 for the Paralympics compared to about a million for the Olympic Games.

Follow Tony Wagner at @tonydwagner