16 August, 2008

The true Olympic spirit

Ehem. I'm not quite sure what happened to the LOLcats on the last post. It looks fine when I see it in preview. Anyhoo, the second cat is sitting on the step with spooky eyes and says 'disrupt'. It's really funny. Hilarious.

So, today I'd like to talk to you about the other Olympics. The Paralympics will kick off in just 21 days. Less able bodied athletes get to push themselves to the limits and show the world there's more to disabled sport than just wheelchair basketball.

The history of the games dates back to just after World War Two. Ludwig Guttman was a Jewish German and a leading neurosurgeon. He fled Germany in 1939 and settled in the UK. In 1944 the British Government asked him to lead a new hospital unit to cope with the young soldiers who were returning from the war with spinal injuries. The unit was - and still is - at the now world famous Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. The first Stoke Mandeville Games were organised in 1948 by Dr Guttman as part of ongoing therapy for his patients, raising both their stamina and self respect. In 1952 Britain was joined in the games by the Netherlands, taking it to an international level. 1960 saw the competition move to Rome, where the games were held after the Olympics had finished. The Paralympics were born. Dr Guttman founded the British Sports Association for the Disabled in the same year. In 1966 Dr Guttman was recognised for his massive contribution to British medicine and sport and was knighted, becoming Sir Ludwig Guttman. He died in 1980, aged 80.

The British Paralympics team are sending athletes out to compete after the able bodied men and women have finished splashing, running and rowing. Here's a look at the Aussies and the US to show just three countries teams.

A variety of events will be contested. Wheelchair rugby, otherwise known as Murderball, is one of the roughest and most exciting games played with the funny shaped ball. Typically played by young men who have sustained spinal injuries in accidents, they're mad as hell, go in hard and change wheels up to 6 times in a game because they've smashed them to buggery. Medals will be awarded in archery, athletics, boccia (a game designed for people with altered motor skills) cycling, equestrian events, football (that's soccer to some of you but you know what, you kick the ball with your foot, so, you know, let's all call it football) , judo, powerlifting, sailing, swimming, and table tennis to name but a few. Oh yes, and wheelchair basketball.

I went to the Paralympics when they were in Sydney in 2000. I wanted to go to the wheelchair rugby but it had sold out within about an hour of the tickets being released so I ended up watching the swimming. It was one of the most fantastic sporting events I've ever been to. The atmosphere was electric. The volunteers were brilliant. The swimming was great fun to watch and I was literally jumping out of my seat throughout most of the races. I got to stand for my national anthem way more times than I expected and waved my British flag so many times I thought the man next to me was going to take it off me and threaten to lodge it somewhere rather uncomfortable.

Over 4,000 athletes from 136 countries competed at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. No doubt there will be more at Beijing. All this from a German Jew who escaped Hitler in 1939. Now that's what I can a legacy.

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