London to raise bar for Paralympics

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PN_PN paralympic0 INLSA Tadhg Slattery and Oscar Pistorius show off the medals they won at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008. Picture: Etienne Rothbart

Gary Behnam

With just a week to go to London’s Paralympic Games, the UK broadcaster Channel 4 is flighting promotional adverts with the message “Thanks for the Warm-Up”.

An unprecedented number of tickets has been sold for what is the second biggest multi-sport event in the world.

The London Paralympics are the largest yet, and they promise to be huge for SA too.

Swimmer Tadhg Slattery said he was overflowing with enthusiasm.

“London will be my sixth and final Paralympics and as such will have a very special place in my memory. Swimming means everything to me. It has helped my self-confidence through being successful and has enabled me to travel the world,” he said.

“It has shown me that handicaps are there to be overcome and can be easily overcome so long as one has a positive attitude to life and sport.

“My Paralympic career will come to an end with London but I have no intention of stopping swimming. I believe that everyone should participate in a sport.

“This is even more important for people with a disability.

“It doesn’t matter if you aspire to be a Usain Bolt or simply want to enjoy a leisurely game of bowls. Sport gets you out, forces you into company and so enhances your social life, which is most important.

“Active sport keeps you fit and strong and in many cases it can reduce the physical impact of the disability.

“Wow! London Olympics delivered big time.

“I expected a great Olympics and got everything I had anticipated. The Brits, athletes and fans, were amazing and the volunteers were fantastic – knowledgeable and super-friendly by all accounts.

“I got a very strong impression that the British public really took the Olympics into its heart.

“I am confident that the excellence of the London Olympics will continue into the Paralympics and be improved, if anything.

“After all you’ve had the rehearsal – now for the real thing.

“Without doubt Paralympic sport is becoming more professional and more competitive with every year that passes.

“I expect to see a plethora of new records in all sports at London, as well as the emergence of new heroes.

“From a South African point of view, I believe that we have a strong team made up of promising youngsters and experienced campaigners. I expect Natalie [du Toit] and Oscar [Pistorius] to do us proud yet again and several others to do well too.

“The London Olympics will live long in most people’s memories. I am confident that we’ll be saying the same about the London Paralympics.

“The London Paralympics will demonstrate to millions of viewers that people with disabilities are not disabled – merely different – and that they can overcome challenges better than many.”

British Paralympic legend Baroness Tanni Gray-Thompson, who is Britain’s greatest Paralympic athlete, having competed in five Games and won 11 gold medals, believes London will be the best Paralympic Games yet.

“The focus has always been about the Olympics and Paralympics, under one organising committee. That has been hugely positive,” she said.

Gray-Thompson said: “London will raise the bar for disability sport. The UK has so much to be proud of in terms of its understanding of disabled people, and in terms of putting disability sport on the map, because it was here that the Paralympic movement began.

“And sport has really led the way in showing what an inclusive world can look like.

“After such a huge success with the Olympics, I’m looking forward to another fantastic opportunity to show the world what the UK can do, what our society has built – and what a great place London is.”

Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, said: “We’re seeing the product of the growth in the Paralympic movement. It’s so exciting. London will be groundbreaking.

“When 45 000 more tickets were released on Thursday, we sold them within an hour and a half. There’s an incredible excitement.

“People are getting to know individuals and seeing Paralympic sport as sport, which is what I’ve striven to achieve since I became president.

“We’re not talking about sport for the disabled, we’re talking about great sport.”

Team SA did the nation proud during the Olympics and we are confident that SA’s Paralympians will match their performance in Beijing, and bring even more gold home from London.

We certainly wish them the very best of luck.

l Gary Benham is spokesman for the British High Commission.


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