The London 2012 Paralympic Games are now more than half done for another year. There have been a number of sensational performances including proimising results from up and coming competitors in the Paralympic arena. Australia stands fourth in the medal tally with 16 gold, thirteen silver and 19 bronze, behind China in 1st on 46 gold, Great Britain in 2nd on 19 and Russia in 3rd with 16 gold like Australia, but more silver. We look almost set for a top 5 finish which is excellent given the stiff competition we’ve faced, but we are certain to finish top 7 with Germany having to make up a significant gap without Australia winning anymore gold just to be on even terms.
The first amazing performance is actually an amazing effort across a number of events. Maddison Elliott in the Australian swimming team is competing in her first Paralympic Games and that’s just as well, given that she’s just 13 years old. The up and coming swimmer from the Hunter Valley has just claimed her first ever Paralympic gold medal as a part of the women’s 4x100m combined 34 point relay overnight London time. This comes after Maddison became the youngest ever Paralympic silver medallist and earlier claimed a bronze medal in the pool.
The next amazing moment comes from the relatively well-known three-time Paralympian, Matthew Cowdrey, for whom history beckons as the greatest ever Paralympian Australia has produced. Matthew Cowdrey yesterday equalled that mark in the men’s combined 34 point 4x100m freestyle relay, moving to 10 gold medals.
Next up, who could go past Jacqueline Freney who is the single biggest medal winner of any competitor at these 2012 Paralympics. The competitor from the S7 and SM 7 classification was the anchor leg of the women’s combined 34 point 4x100m freestyle relay and also just won gold in the 10om freestyle for her class.
Finally, to the most talked about and debated upset of the 2012 Paralympics. Yes, just about everyone on the planet has heard about it, Oscar Pistorius being beaten into 2nd in the T44 200m at the track. The hot favourite was beaten by Brazilian Alan Oliveira in the closing stages of the race with the relative unknown eclipsing the almost unbackable Pistorius. Immediately Oscar Pistorius questioned the win when interviewed for television and the win has sent the sporting world into a frenzied debate again over the use of the prosthetic blades.
Those are just four of the most interesting, exhilarating, inspiring and in the case of the last example, controversial moments. But there are still 6 days left which promise to bring more amazing performances including, hopefully from our wheelchair basketball teams, the wheelchair rugby team. Expect more gold medal exploits in the pool too, perhaps with Matt Cowdrey eclipsing Tim Sullivan’s combined Paralympic gold medal haul across his career. With that much time left, there is still plenty of opportunities for more gold, silver and bronze.
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.