Paralympians ready to make their mark

16 August 2004

When the final race has been run and the last gold medal awarded, the many athletes competing in the 2004 Olympic Games will vacate their rooms and make their way home, some with dreams still intact, others shattered.

But Athens will not be quiet for long as a new group of athletes gathers in the city's venues ready to break records and take their places on the winners podium.

The 2004 Paralympic Games will be held in Athens from September 17-28 and will see Paralympians using the same top-quality venues and facilities that their able-bodied counterparts made use of a few weeks earlier.

This is something the organisers had to bear in mind throughout the planning and construction phases of the venues - for example, the accommodation had to have special showers available for wheelchair athletes and all venues, from eating halls to competition stadia, had to be user-friendly for both abled and disabled athletes.

Contrary to popular belief, the word "para" in Paralympics has nothing to do with paraplegics or any other disability. Rather, it is a shortened version of "parallel" and is used only when the able-bodied Olympics and the Paralympic Games are held in the same venue at more or less the same time.

Based at the Sports Science Institute, MACSTEEL Maestros of the Future is an outreach programme that provides an environment wherein young, talented, financially disadvantaged athletes receive guidance towards reaching their greatest potential.

The programme gives athletes an experience of what is required of world-class athletes while focusing on their physical development and personal growth.

MACSTEEL Maestros has six paralympians who will jet off to Athens, including the Cape Town trio of Natalie du Toit, Malcolm Pringle and Jane Mandean.

Du Toit holds no less than six swimming world records and is scheduled to defend these at the games. This will be her first visit to the Paralympics and her events range from butterfly to freestyle, with distances ranging between 100m to 800m.

Pringle has held the 800m and 1 500m world records since 1996. In an international event in the Netherlands last season, he bettered his 1 500m. He has won gold medals at both Atlanta and Sydney.

Mandean has also served at two previous Olympics bringing home medals in the javelin, shotput and discus. At the 2004 National Games, she won gold in all three events.

According to MACSTEEL Maestros' Gill Taylor, the training schedules of these three paralympians are just as demanding as those of able-bodied athletes.

"At the Sports Science Institute, they have received comprehensive support in the form of biokinetics, medicine, physiotherapy, nutrition, psychology and lifeskills.

"These three proud Capetonians have added pressure on them to achieve because of the standards they have set in previous outings. But at the preparation camp in Stellenbosch in July they looked ready for the challenge."

This year will see paralympians compete in 19 sporting codes in Athens. All but four of these - boccia, goalball, powerlifting and wheelchair rugby - are the same sports that feature on the Olympic calendar. And paralympians have nothing to feel modest about - as the official Paralympic web site observes, Paralympic world records are comparable with those of Olympic athletes. Canadian speed merchant Donovan Bailey's Olympic record in the men's 100 metres is 9.84 seconds; the Paralympic record of Ajibola Adoye, a Nigerian arm amputee, in the same event is 10.72 seconds. And in four of the powerlifting weight categories, Paralympic world records exceed able-bodied world records by up to 12 kilograms.

Disabled athletes have certainly proven that they're very able.

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