Disabled And Still Competing

By Gary Norris Gray
Updated: August 24, 2008

CALIFORNIA — This week will mark another step in disabled sports history as two females played against non-disabled athletes in Beijing. The history of disabled athletes in the summer games is very short.

The PGA and other sports organizations have been very skittish about excluding disabled athletes in any kind of competition. Golfer Casey Martin’s case against the PGA in 1998 is a reminder of that kind of attitude.

This year Oscar Pistoris, a double amputee from South Africa added to the legal building blocks. He won his case to compete with non-disabled athletes in Beijing.

ESPN’s “E: 60” and this writer’s article “Before Oscar, There Was Wilma” explains some of the technical aspects of his case against the IOC and Pistoris.

This will mark only the third time in history that disabled athletes competed against non disabled athletes. The last time was when U.S. gold medal winning sprinter Wilma Rudolph participated in the 1960 Olympics.

In 1904, only disabled American males competed in the Olympic Games. Neroli Fairhall, an archer from New Zealand was the first to challenge the world of non-disabled athletes in the Summer Games in St. Louis.

Lest we forget, American and Olympic champion gymnast George Eyser competed in the same games. Eyser used wooden legs to navigate around the arena and became the only disabled male to win an Olympic medal.

The international sports community raised the stakes for disabled athletes after the 1904 games. Not until this year have disabled athletes made a public splash in the Olympic scene.

Many disabled athletes did not tell their country that they were disabled for the fear of being discriminated against. There seems to be a code of silence to keep disabled athletes out of the summer games.

Non-disabled athletes feel threatened by disabled athletes. The image of the perfect body would be shattered if a disabled athlete defeated a non-disabled athlete on the world stage. However if present history continues, the world will see another disabled athlete gain a summer or winter medal.

The combining the two names, Parallel-Olympics created Paralympics. This was established after being turned down many times by their non disabled counter parts in 1960.

The disabled community would eventually create their own games in 1948.

Most of these participants were from World War II and the Korean Conflict.

In 1976, all individuals with a physical disability were included. The Paralympics usually occur a week and half after the non-disabled games in the same city, a tradition that began in 1988. The host city has to become accessible in a matter of days.

The South Korean city of Seoul was the first test and they passed with flying colors. This writer almost became a part of those games in the sport of bowling after qualifying for the American Western Regional in San Francisco.

The United States team lost to Canada in the North American Region.

In 1961, the Kennedy family created the Special Olympics for the Mentally (disabled) Challenged. They took on this special interest group because one of their family members had a mentally challenged child.

The Special Olympics, a worldwide event, doesn’t emphasize winning only participation and friendship. That is why the Special Olympics have grown through the years because everybody can participate in these games.

This summer, three disabled athletes tried again to qualify in Beijing. Two females made it and the one male did not. The aforementioned Pistoris could not make his time trials for the Beijing games.

He filed a protracted lawsuit against the international sports community and won only to be beaten by the time clock. It is guaranteed that Pistoris will compete again in 2012 in London.

In the Opening Ceremonies, 24-year-old Natalie du Toit, an amputee from South Africa, carried her nation’s flag into the National Chinese Stadium. She didn’t medal in the new marathon swimming event.

But du Toit stated it was a thrill to compete and to be there with the national and world audience. Natalia Partyka, another amputee from Poland, also competed in table tennis.

These two women carried the torch for all disabled athletes in 2008. All three of these athletes (du Toit, Partyka,

and Pistoris) will compete in the Paralympics in Beijing. The Bird Nest, the Cube, and many other venues will be accessible to the world’s disabled athletes.

The Chinese people will welcome these fine athletes just as they welcomed their non-disabled counterparts. This writer will keep you informed with the Para-Games in September. The U.S. has one of the strongest teams in many years and should bring home many metals.

Only time will tell.

Also, all Americans need to communicate to NBC and all other media that the Paralympics should be televised so disabled athletes can receive the recognition that their non-disabled counterparts have previously received