March 1, 2006

Spirit of Paralympic Games Similar to Olympics

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The Olympic flame no longer shines above Torino, but the end of the Winter Games did not mark the end of sporting events in the city. That’s because the Paralympic Games will begin there on March 10.

Not a lot of people know about the Paralympics, mostly because the media does not pay a lot attention to the event. But it’s an inspiring competition – the type of thing that can change your view of people with disabilities.

Although the Summer Paralympic Games include more events, the Winter Games will feature sports like alpine and cross-country skiing. The Games also include sled hockey. It’s exactly like hockey, but the athletes move around using an adaptive sled attached to pair of skate blades. There is also a version of curling for people in wheelchairs and a biathlon event.

The sports may work somewhat differently from the events at the Olympics, but some things stay the same. For example, Austria has a great ski team in the Paralympics, and Austrian Reini Sampl is one of the favorites to win gold in the in downhill skiing event. He took fourth at the Salt Lake City Paralympics in 2002. Years ago he was injured in a skiing accident, and as you might imagine, he figured he would never ski again. But with specially modified equipment, he not only got back on the slopes – he also began to compete with some of the world’s bravest athletes.

Consider Pascale Casanova of France – winner of the gold medal in the women’s downhill event in 2002. She’s visually impaired, but yet, with ingenuity, she still competes in the skiing event. How does she do it? As she heads down the mountain, another skier – called a “guide” – skis ahead of her and yells out when a turn is approaching. With such dedication and patience, it seems that even the greatest challenges of living with a disability can be conquered.

Consider 50-year old Dave Conklin – who suffered a spinal cord injury earlier in his life – and yet went on to win a gold medal with the USA sled hockey team in 2002. He’ll be competing in Torino – his third Paralympic Games.

There are many such inspiring stories at the Paralympics. And after all that Bode Miller nonsense, that Chad Hedrick – Shani Davis feud, and some other distracting Olympic moments, it’s nice to see something truly inspiring in sports.

Unfortunately, none of the TV networks in America will be showing the Paralympic Games. I guess there isn’t enough demand – but then again, how are people supposed to know about the Paralympics if nobody tells us about the event?

The very first Paralympic Games occurred in 1960 – a summer competition that occurred following the Rome Olympics. The first Winter Paralympics were in Sweden in 1976, although the Olympics took place in Austria that year. Since 1992, however, the Olympic Games and Paralympics have been in the same host city. That adds prestige and equality for the Paralympics – something the athletes certainly deserve.

After all, the “para-” in Paralympics means “alongside” in the Greek language, indicating that the Paralympic Games should occur in an equal standing with the Olympic Games.

And the Winter Paralympics have truly grown. From just a few competing athletes in 1976, there are now hundreds of competitors from 41 countries. The United States will send 55 athletes to the Games, which will last from the opening ceremonies until March 19.

Yes, it’s unlikely you would know the names of any of these Paralympic competitors. And of course, they are not going to make headlines like the athletes at the Olympics. But it’s impossible to deny the dedication, ability, and courage of the Paralympic athletes. After all, just by competing – by triumphing over everything – they have really already won.

Ted Nyman is a Sun Staff Writer. Fast Times will appear every other Wednesday this semester.

Archived article by Ted Nyman