Today is the last day of the Paralympics in London. They come and go so quietly compared to the big summer games.
If you live in the UK, you had a chance to watch over 400 hours of Paralympics broadcasts on Channel 4. In contrast, in the United States NBC had four nights of an hour long highlight show to cover the 11 days of ceremony and games. In Mongolia we got a good 4-6 hours of daily coverage, even after all of the Mongolian athletes came back home without medals. It’s reported that 11 million people tuned in to the opening ceremonies, nearly three times the number of viewers of the 2008 games in Beijing. China can console itself through a massive stack of medals its athletes will be taking home this summer. They are up to 95 gold medals so far, kept company by 71 silvers, and 65 bronze. Not too shabby.
Pictured here are the “Sook Sisters” (they all have “sook” in their name and aren’t actually related), Korea’s archery heroes who came away with one gold medal a piece, and an extra silver for Hwa Sook. South Korea had a lot invested in its athletes this year. Most of its athletes trained and lived at the newly built Korean Sports Training Center d’ground, a beautiful facility South East of Seoul designed just for Paralympians . Leading up to the games, Korean TV broadcast touching documentaries about the lives of some the athletes, and the coaches and family members who support them in their training.
Back in June, GR blogged about Maya Nakanishi who was getting some flack for fund raising with a self-published calendar featuring some sexy shots with just her prosthetic. She did end up making it London this year, and she competed in three Athletic games, but didn’t get any medals. I hope she can make it again in 2016. (Calendars as Christmas gifts are a big seller, Maya…)
Fundraising is just one of the challenges facing paralympic athletes. There was a record breaking number of participating athletes this year, 4,200 from 164 countries. In contrast, more than 10,000 from 204 countries competed in the Olympic games. Even if a paralympic athlete can overcome cultural stigma in their country, their personal physical challenges, and train hard enough to dominate in their categorized sport, they still have to find a way to pay for it all and make it to the games. It’s depressing to think of all the individuals who are held back by financial resources when they’ve been able to take on everything else.
There’s a dark side to the Paralympics, just like there is for the Olympic games. Much has been written about the “supercrip” archetype that surfaces with the Paralympic games. It’s fascinating, provocative, and a conversation that should be continued to better understand the challenges faced by the differently-abled.
North Korea can enter into the supercrip conversation now. They debuted their first ever Paralympic athlete in London. At the very last minute, maybe high on their Olympic golds, they sent a 16 year old boy who lived in Beijing to frantically try to qualify for a spot in the games. In May, all that was left by the time he cleared to qualify, was swimming. He learned how to swim, learned two strokes (required) and competed on September 4th. North Korea has hopes to expand its Paralympic athletics program, and build upon what it believes to be substantial services for the differently-abled. Not sure how it ranks in importance to sufficient food supply for the general population, and the maintenance of state run theme parks, but this could mean some hope for extra rations for a few.