I have been so involved with returning to Europe and finding our feet again that I have not even mentioned the Para-Olympics. This event is now on Day 4 and both world records and Paralympic records are tumbling like ninepins. The participants, all who have physical disabilities, prove to the rest of the world that even though extremely challenged they are superb sportsmen with courage and self-discipline not known to most of us.
In fact so supremely confident are they in their sportsmanship and dedication to win that one of them, a South African called Oscar Pistorius otherwise known as ‘The Blade Runner’ or ‘the fastest man on no legs’, even challenged the Olympic committee to allow him to run in the August Games. His challenge was defeated but then over-turned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Sadly he didn’t qualify.
Pistorius is participating in the Paralympics in Beijing in the 100, 200 and 400 metres. He is the defending Paralympic champion in the 200 metres. On 9 September, following a slow start, he rallied to snatch gold from the United States’ Jerome Singleton in the 100 metres in a time of 11.17 seconds, 0.03 seconds ahead of the silver medallist.
The Para Olympics were first started by Sir Ludwig Guttmann in 1948. He organized a sports competition involving World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries in Stoke Mandeville, England. Four years later competitors from the Netherlands joined the games and an international movement was born. In 1960 Olympic-style games for disabled athletes was organised for the first time in Rome.
The first Paralympics were held in Toronto in 1976 and in the same year the first winter Paralympics were held in Sweden.
The movement has grown dramatically since its first days. The number of athletes participating in Summer Paralympic Games has increased from 400 athletes from 23 countries in Rome in 1960 to 3,806 athletes from 136 countries in Athens in 2004.
The Games are now full of variety. Included in the schedule are: archery, athletics, boccia, cycling road, cycling track, equestrian, football 5-a-side, football 7-a-side, goalball, judo, powerlifting, rowing, siling, shooting, swimming, table tennis, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair tennis.
The closing ceremony for the Paralympics will be the 17th September.