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How About We Let the Sport do the Talking?

The London 2012 Paralympic Games are here, they’re finally here. The biggest ever Paralympic Games have returned to land of their spiritual birthplace, England. Over 4000 athletes have converged on the Paralympic Village, ready to compete across 21 sports, some everyday sports and some  adapted especially for athletes with a disability. This Paralympic Games has also seen the most number of tickets sold for the entire event, with 2.4 of 2.5 million tickets snapped up by sports mad people from the United Kingdom and around the world.

The television coverage domestically has also promised to be huge. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the perennial broadcast partner for the Paralympic Games again won the right to broadcast the event from start to finish. The ABC coverage of this year’s Paralympics has been much talked about. With the advent of digital television and the subsequent new channels allowing for greater coverage of this important sporting exhibition, more coverage, much more was promised.

Across two channels, the ABC have begun broadcasting a total of nine and a half hours daily from the Paralympic Games. This is a big shift from years previous when a highlights show and some radio commentary were the stock standard fare and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation should be congratulated for committing to such widespread coverage and the fact that the exposure of the Games is heading in the right direction, up.

Aside from the opening ceremony, which was brilliantly- read minimally narrated and impressively broadcast to the Australian people, the televising of the actual sporting prowess of our Paralympic athletes began right as the competition started.

That broadcast was headed in the studio by Stephanie Brantz, no stranger to sports commentary, as well as being co-hosted by comedian Lawrence Mooney, actor Adam Zwar and Sam Pang. Guests joined the hosts throughout four and a half hours of coverage on the ABC’s digital television channel.

A number of the finest voices of ABC Grandstand and ABC Radio  were stationed at the sporting venues across London, ready to bring the action to a curious Australian audience to a magnitude never seen before in this country.

If there was a failure of the coverage last night, it was that there was too much talk and not enough action. The stars of the Paralympics are supposed to be the athletes who’ve put in massive effort over the years and overcome more adversity than most people will ever encounter.

Instead, for much of the night, we were made familiar with the comedic exploits in particular of Lawrence Mooney and Adam Zwar, but also Sam Pang, who’ve been in the United Kingdom for some time already. The chat was interweaved with numerous introductions to the Australian team and some of its members individually, but that would ideally have taken place while there was little or no sport on, say between 6 and 7pm last night.

Oh and another thing. The only thing “live” about most of the coverage last night and yes the website says it was supposed to be live, is that the commentators were broadcasting live from London. Very little of the sport appeared live amid all the chin-wagging back in the studio. At one point the swimming heats went from one of the later heats in one event, directly to the second heat of presumably the next event. I’m sorry, but to me live coverage means footage of the actual competition is beamed to our televisions instantaneously,  not people sitting around in a studio talking about the sports we want to see as viewers.

As an indication of just how wrong they got it with the coverage last night, Twitter was abuzz with comments lamenting the lack of athletic action being displayed on televisions around Australia. One person even remarked to me that they were so disappointed they felt that switching off after a while was the only answer.

So here’s a radical thought: more sport and less talk. We know the c0-hosts are funny or at least try to be. But they’re not why we as viewers are tuning in. We want to see sporting genius, we want to share the joy of stellar efforts in the pool, on the road, the track and the other arenas. If we wanted a laugh we’d go to their gigs. To steal a line from Elvis and alter it just a bit, a little less conversation, a little more sporting action please.

That Event That is More Inspirational Than the Olympics

Today the Australian Swimming Championships, doubling as the Olympic selection trials began for our prospective Olympians this morning in Adelaide. The event has been shrouded in hype, misplaced a lot of it, around former greats attempting to make a comeback at the London 2012 Olympic Games just months away. Ian Thorpe, Michael Klim, Libby Trickett and Geoff Huegill, the latter having already made a successful comeback to international competition are vying for one of two spots in each Olympic event.

But there is another selection trial going on that has been so under-reported that it is almost shrouded in secrecy because reports about it have been so sparse and that is the selection trials for our current and hopeful Paralympic athletes, those people with a disability, paid little or nothing who also perform at an elite level but are in an eclipse like shadow behind their highly paid Olympian counterparts.

These so-called Elite Athletes with a Disability, EAD for short or Athletes with a Disability (AWD) will take part in events daily over the time of the trials in both heats and finals.

It is worth explaining how the competition usually works at this event for our athletes attempting selection in the Australian Paralympic team. Athletes with a disability are broken down into different classifications according to the extent of their disability and their ability to move and are assessed by accredited classifiers into these groups.

At the trials athletes compete in heats which are usually seeded according to comparable times in each respective event. For each classification there is a world record and all athletes are effectively racing to get as close to the world record for their classification in each event. The 8 closest swimmers to a world record will then compete in the final.

In the final, the three medallists are judged in the same way as places in the final are determined. That means that the three closest people to a world record will win a gold, silver or bronze medal accordingly.

Our Paralympic athletes are extraordinary people who have had to overcome more than the usual obstacles to achieve the high level representation that they do. Unlike their Olympic friends, EAD athletes have to overcome limitations from their disability too. The wonderful thing is that Athletes with a Disability at the highest level often train the same amount as elite athletes or so-called “able-bods”, so they are training with the physical impairment to the same extent as other elite athletes.

Anyone who has been to the Paralympics as a spectator will have left with a newfound respect and admiration for the abilities and achievements of people with a disability. You will encounter swimmers from south-east Asia who have lost limbs, sometimes, double-arm amputees gliding through the water like dolphins and then at the end needing to slam their heads with substantial force into the touchpads to register a time.

You are urged to tune into the evening broadcast of the finals on the Ten Network, where if previous events are any indication, at least some of the AWD events will be broadcast over the week of competition. The London 2012 Paralympics too are a must watch from the 29th of August to the 9th of September in London to be broadcast on both ABC television and radio.

So there is nothing left to do but to get ensconced in the terrific awe-inspiring exploits of those who have it much harder in life than their “able-bodied” counterparts and manage to throw off the metaphorical chains and reach amazing heights.

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