By Rob Ficiur
The 11th Winter Paralympic games ended this week in Sochi, Russia. The next Summer Paralympic games will take place in 2016 in Brazil and the next Paralympic Winter Games will take place in 2018 in South Korea. Since 1988 the Paralympic games have taken place a few weeks after the Olympics finish in the same site.
The first organized athletic day for disabled athletes that coincided with the Olympic Games took place on the day of the opening of the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. German born Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, who had fleed Nazi Germany in 1939, hosted a sports competition for British World War II veteran patients with spinal cord injuries.
The first Paralympic games took place in Rome in 1960. When the Soviet Union held the 1980 Summer Olympics, they were not interested in hosting the Paralympics, since there were no disabled people in the Soviet Union. (Did they really say that?) In the 2014 Paralympic games the Russians earned 80 medals, including 30 of the 72 Gold Medals. Guess now there are a few disabled people in that country.
The 2014 Paralympic games had 550 athletes from 45 countries. (by comparison the 2014 Winter Games included 2873 athletes from 88 nations. Snowboarding made its Paralympic debut at Sochi. The Paralympic games have grown in size each year. The 1988 Paralympics (held in Innsbruck, Austria not Calgary) had 22 countries and 377 athletes. In 2010, the Vancouver Paralympic games hosted 44 countries and 506 athletes.
Canada came in third in the 2014 Paralympic medal count with seven gold and sixteen total medals. This is slightly down from 2010 when we won ten gold and nineteen medals still put Canada in third place. Third place is the highest Canada has ranked in the Paralympic games, beating our previous best of sixth place set in 2006 and 2002.
Who are the Canadians that won medals? During the three weeks of the Winter Olympics, every day a new hero was born. TV coverage of the Paralympic games was relegated to highlights and broadcasts on secondary sports channels.
-Brian McKeever, a visually impaired athlete, won gold in 20 km and 10 km free style skiing and 1km sprint. Brian will need a new shelf for all the 12 Paralympic medals he has earned since 2006. His favorite color is Gold, he has nine of those medals.
-Josh Dueck won Gold and Silver in Sit-Skiing. Josh was chosen as Canada’s Flag bearer at the closing ceremonies. Duecks’ silver medal came ten years to the day when he broke his back in a skiing run.
-Wheelchair curling earned Canada another gold medal. Canada has won all gold in all three years that wheel chair curling has been part of the Paralympic games.
– Christopher Klebl won Gold for 10 km Cross country sit-skiing. In 2005 Klebl broke his back snowboarding and was paralyzed from the waste down. The Canmore resident previously competed for the USA in other Paralympic games.
– Mac Marcoux won gold for downhill skiing for the visually impaired. Sixteen year old Mac was the youngest member of the Canada Paralympic team. The visually impaired Macroux learned to downhill ski using a radio to communicate with his guide up ahead while he blasts down the hill at upwards of 100 kilometres per hour.
-Canadians had to settle for a bronze in sledge hockey. The USA won gold, and the Russians did a get an Olympic hockey medal, silver in sledge hockey. Canada has only won the Gold Medal in Sledge hockey once, back in 2006.
The opening of the Paralympic games was marred when Russian troops threatened to invade the Ukraine. Hopefully the Sochi Olympics will be remembered for all the athletes who overcame life changing disabilities, not for one more mini war between a big country and its little neighbor.