By Gary Norris Gray
Updated: February 25, 2006
CALIFORNIA—Disabled athletes from around the world will convene for the Para-Olympic Games. These games come after their counterparts able-bodied athletes leave Turin, Italy. March 25 signals the closing of the 2006 Olympic Games however the International Flags will remain to herald the Para-Olympic Games.
The Italian Olympic committee has made modifications at the Games site prior to the closing of the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin. Disabled athletes who participate in Para-Olympic Games need access to compete. Modifications such as, wheelchairs, ramps, and guardrails are tantamount for the disabled athlete. Obviously, the Italian Olympic Committee benefited from the mistakes that the Greek Olympic Committee two years ago.
Ice hockey and buggy boarding will be added to this yearï¿½s Para-games. Words cannot express my excitement over the addition of ice hockey to the winter program. When I was in Disabled school we played wheelchair hockey. We did not play on ice but played outside on concrete in the New Jersey winter. It was a challenge, but we did it.
The Para-Olympic games were organized by English wheelchair bound athletes in Stoke Mandeville, England in 1948. These athletes wanted to show the world that they could compete on the field, in the swimming pool, and on the track just like their non-disabled brothers and sisters.
Four years later (1952) The Para-games became international when the Netherlands joined the British disabled athletes in London.
The first International Para-Olympic games were held in 1960 in Madrid, Spain. There were 400 participants then but there will be 5500 athletes in 2006. Only twenty countries were represented at these games in 1960, but there will be over 140 countries sending representatives to TORINO, Italy in 2006.
The torch will be passed from the non-disabled athletes to the di! sabled athletes with fourteen days of running, jumping, swimming, and diving at the Para-Games. Some of these athletes have one arm or one leg; some use power wheelchairs instead of leg power. Some of these athletes were born with disability, some because disabled as a result of an injury, and some were disabled while serving in the armed forces but all have a common goal: To be a first class world athlete. We should acknowledge that they are equal to their non-disabled colleagues as they practice day and night. Working towards their moment of victory, their moment in the sun.
There were no winter games until 1972. The summer and winter para games are now held in the same city. The reason for this is that the facilities are made accessible for the disabled athlete and the funding is already available.
In 1988 this writer competed for bowling in the Seoul, Korea Para-Games but the San Francisco group failed to raise the money needed to facilita! te participation for the disabled athlete to compete equally. The 1988 Western Regional was moved from San Francisco, California to Seattle, Washington. This caused many disabled athletes to be eliminated. Lack of funds was the major factor in getting from San Francisco to Seattle, Washington. Most athletes had already spent their monies getting to California. The Para-Olympic committee made sure that the disturbing events of 1988 would never happen again.
The Para-Olympic Games will be televised worldwide for the first time. The United States will once again field a weak team; could this be the reason there will be only a one hour broadcast time in America?
Our Disabled brothers and sisters around the world apparently are better trained, more disciplined and are much farther ahead of their fellow American disabled athletes.
In Greece 2004, Mainland Mainland China, Spain, and Great Britain won the majority of medals. The American team won only 23 medals. The disabled athlete competes for the fun of the games. Steroids are not an issue at these games, neither is a big ego (the current Hendrick-Davis feud). Maybe the non-disabled athlete needs to take notice of their disabled counter-part.
We urge Americans to support the disabled athletes with the same vigor and enthusiasm that is used to support our non-disabled athletes.
This year NBC broadcasted 14 days and 1000 hours of the 2004 non-disabled Olympics. This year the world will see the 2006 Para-Olympic Games. We are all worthy of sports news coverage.