Sunday, September 7, 2008

When You Thought It Was Over...

...There Is More Coming To You

After the 29th Olympics game now it’s time for the 13th Paralympics Game which will be host here in Beijing from the 6th to the 17th of September.

While more than 10,000 athletes from 304 countries competed in the big O, “only” 4,200 athletes from 148 countries will try to grab one of the 472 gold medals* in 20 sports (302 in 28 sports in the Oly). China will compete in all 20 sports with 332 athletes.

6,000 journalists -2,960 being foreigners- (compare to 20,000 for the O.) will cover the event, twice the number which reported on the previous Paralympics in Athens, when only 100 journalists cover the 1992 Paralympics. The Paralympics are not as profitable for media but it’s getting better.

The Paralympics started in 1948 summer Olympics in London when Dr Ludwig Guttman organized a sport competition for British World War II veteran with spinal cord injuries. The games were held again at the same location in 1952, and Dutch veterans took part alongside the British, making it the first international competition of its kind. These Stoke Mandeville Games have been described as the precursors of the Paralympic Games. The Paralympics were subsequently officialised as a quadrennial event tied to the Olympic Games and the first official Paralympics Game, no longer open solely to war veterans, were held in Rome in 1960. At the Toronto 1976 Games other groups of athletes with different disabilities were also included. The Paralympic Games take place in the same year as the Olympic Games. However, it is only since 1988 that the Games have been held in the same city, using the same venues. (Source: Wikipedia)

On a side note: “For the first time since the launch of the official Paralympic Games in 1960, French Paralympians will receive the same monetary award as their Olympian counterparts. Each athlete will receive 2,000 euros for participation. For medalists: 13,000 euros for bronze, 20,000 euros for silver and 50,000 for gold.” GO France

Now about the opening ceremony, it was not obviously as flashy as the Olympics version but the torch lighting was amazing. Hou Bin (侯斌), a one-legged track athlete, pulled himself and his wheelchair in the air by rope and lit the Olympic cauldron. Another highlight was when Pin Yali who became China’s first Paralympics champion in 1984 (blind long jumper) carried the flame with the aid of a guide dog named lucky. Lucky is one of China's first seeing-eye dogs and the first in the capital. When Lucky came to Beijing last year, the Golden Retriever was technically banned under a Beijing rule against large dogs in public places. In April, a temporary regulation was put in place to allow guide dogs in public places during the Paralympics. The blind and their supporters say that's a small example of how the Paralympics could help improve the lives of China's disabled.

* If there is one major difference between the Olympics and the Paralympics it is the concept of classifications. Put simply, the classifications are a way for organizers to group like with like athletes so that people of roughly equivalent disabilities can compete together. There are five main categories of disabilities represented at the Paralympics: Amputee, Cerebral palsy, vision impairment or blindness, wheelchair, Les Autres (French term meaning “the others” – such as dwarfism. With the range of amputations displayed by athletes there is also a numerical classification to cater for the differing levels of disability.