After attending the 2010 Paralympics alpine events last week, it became evident just how different the Paralympics are from the Olympics.
Gone were the security restrictions, blimps, pigloos, military helicopters and police officers/military on every street corner. Paralympic spectators were not subjected to airport-style security screening, despite visiting VIPs such as Prime Minister Harper, B.C. Premier, Gordon Campbell and Prince Edward.
All instances of the IOC's five-ring logo had been replaced with the three agitos (or semi ovals of red, green and blue). Tickets for the Olympic alpine events were priced at $150, while tickets to the Paralympic alpine events were only $15, but still delivered the excitment of a world-class event.
Chris Shaw, the author of The Five Ring Circus, writes, "It is appropriate to contrast the IOC with what it is not: the Paralympic Games, the latter perhaps the last bastion of "pure" sports at an international level." According to Shaw, "Since the Paralympics don't make anywhere near the money that the IOC does, this means they do it for the love of sports, rather than for the profits that can be made by marketing athletes as products for a worldwide television audience."
While Canadian Olympians Clara Hughes, Sidney Crosby and Jeremy Wotherspoon were already household names, most Canadians would be challenged to name a single Paralympian - Canadian or otherwise.
I wish that Paralympic TV sponsor, CTV had done a better job of broadcasting the Paralympic events, or explaining how the complex Paralympic classification system works, so audiences could decipher athletic categories like LW12-1, B3, and LW 6/8-1.
Researching Paralympic Athletes
While people's first instincts are to cheer for athletes simply because they hail from Canada, a friend of mine ranked all the alpine athletes based on their interests, hobbies and political leanings. She arrived at the downhill event armed with facts about all of the Paralympic skiers.
Her top picks included Canadian alpine skier, Sam Danniels for his interest in "backyard engineering" and U.S. skier, Ralph Green, who lost a leg following a random street shooting in New York.
After my own research, I learned that Italian sledge hockey player, Gabriele Araudo enjoys studying the history of fortifications, while blind Australian skier, Bart Bunting works as a satellite network engineer.
Did you know that Croatian alpine skier, Nikolina Santek enjoys ironing and picking chestnuts or that 20-year old visually impaired skier Caitlin Sarubbi from Brooklyn, New York, competes in alpine skiing despite being born with no eyelids and having undergone 57 reconstructive surgeries?
It was incredible to watch these athletes race down an icy slope, knowing they had overcome so many odds to get here. I found myself cheering for all the athletes, regardless if they were from Canada, Japan, Russia or Serbia. For me, the Paralympics really did bring the world together through sport.
The President of the Interational Paralympic Committee (IPC), Sir Philip Craven said it best during the Paralympic closing ceremonies - "the Paralympics are all about community and its far-reaching family."
Sadly, the games have come to an end. By the time morning hit, busloads of athletes were already leaving town, the Sochi snow globes hfrom the Paralympic closing ceremonies were posted on e-Bay, while Whistler's mayor and council resume council meetings this week after being on a celebratory hiatus for the past three months.
See you in Sochi 2014!
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