Paralympic turning point

Paralympic turning point

NIKOLAI BIRCH
STAFF WRITER

In its spiritual home of London, the Paralympics have flourished like never before. Originally called the Stoke Mandeville Games, the idea of handicapped athletes began at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England in the 1940s and was the brainchild of Ludwig Guttman. The “Father of Sport for People with Disabilities” was a great proponent of the use of sport to improve the quality of life for veterans injured in World War II. The first wheelchair games coincided with the Olympics in London in 1948, and three Olympics later in Rome, the Games became a normal feature of every Olympics. Just 72 years after its creation, in the birthplace of the first event, regarding both the number of athletes and the number of people watching, the Paralympics became the second largest sporting event in the world.

With the help of Channel 4’s spectacular coverage, the Paralympics became more of a main feature this year, as opposed to the afterthought to the Olympics as it has been in the past. The “Meet the Superhumans” campaign was superb, and the commercial featuring Team GB’s Paralympic stars and Public Enemy’s song “Harder than You Think” was beyond inspiring. The advertisement was influential enough to boost Spotify’s streams of the song by 3,000 percent from the time the commercial first aired. Also, the advertisements for the Paralympics with the “Thanks for the Warm-Up” themes were very clever and well thought-out, placing the Paralympics on the same level of importance as the Olympics.

Another key feature of the Paralympic spirit was the man known as the “Blade Runner,” South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, who won his heat in the 400 meter at the Olympics. Pistorius lost both legs as an infant, and uses two carbon-fibre “blades” to run. Pistorius was the first double amputee to run in the Olympics, and also the first to advance to the semifinals, before missing the qualifying mark for the men’s 400 meter final by a quarter of a second. Due to role models like Pistorius, we will definitely see the two sporting events integrate into one, or at least see more Paralympic sports become incorporated into the Olympics. In the future, we will see a lot more of disabled athletes in the Olympics, and once it is accepted, athletes with disabilities may take over, like Pistorius was close to doing this summer.

ASL’s students were able to witness the effect first hand, and several, including myself, attended the Games. The atmosphere was electric and didn’t seem at all different from the Olympics, with both the number of people and the attitude towards more serious competition, matching those of the Olympics. The support from the home crowd and from those who came from all over the world to see their athletes perform on the largest stage made the games an incredible environment to be a part of.

“We want to change public attitudes towards disability, celebrate the excellence of Paralympic sport and enshrine from the very outset, that the two Games are an integrated whole,” said Lord Sebastian Coe, the British Olympic Association Chairman on his goals for this summer’s Paralympic games. Lord Coe’s goals were fairly reasonable, as this summer’s games not only had the most athletes ever to compete in the Paralympics (4,280), but also had the most countries ever (166) to send athletes to the games. In the first three-week ticket window, the games sold over one million tickets, smashing the previous record, and sold over two and a half million tickets over all, making almost £10 million more than expected.

The incredible jump that the Paralympics took this past summer was beyond any possible expectations, and changed the future of the games to an incredible extent. The next Olympics will be in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and will have to go above and beyond to improve on what Lord Coe and the London 2012 Paralympic Committee did here this summer. The games sprung into the public eye on the backs of some global stars like Pistorius, but held its own with awe-inspiring performances from under-appreciated athletes all over the world. The advancement of the Paralympics this year allowed the event to make an unbelievable amount of progress, and it should be considered one of the greatest sporting events in the past decade.

nikolai_birch@asl.org