Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1311, (8 - 21 September 2016)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1311, (8 - 21 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

On to the Paralympics

Two weeks after the Rio Olympics, now comes the Paralympic Games, with Egypt expected to do well, reports Abeer Anwar

 The Egyptian paralympic delegation
The Egyptian paralympic delegation
Al-Ahram Weekly

At the birthplace of the Paralympic movement, the Heritage Paralympic Flame was lit on Friday during a special ceremony in Stoke Mandeville, Great Britain, the historical birthplace of the Paralympics, the major international multi-sports event for athletes with disabilities. The Heritage flame was combined with the five regional flames in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday ahead of the opening ceremony of the XV 2016 Paralympic Games on Wednesday 7 September.

 “The history and origins of the Paralympic movement must never be forgotten and that is why we’re so pleased that Stoke Mandeville will once again stage a leg of the Paralympic torch relay, marking the past, present and future of the Paralympic movement in this country,” said Miguel Sagarra, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) board member.

“This flame will act as a powerful uniting force, bringing together the world’s best para athletes for Latin America’s first Paralympic Games.”

The event saw the raising of the Paralympic flag. The ceremony followed a theme entitled ‘The seeds of diversity’ and was inspired by the story of the first Stoke Mandeville Games, imagining that in 1948 a seed was planted, which has now spread around the world. Many of the performers taking part in the ceremony also performed at the London 2012 Paralympic Games opening ceremony.

Tim Reddish, OBE and chairman of the British Paralympic Committee, said: “It is our honour and privilege to light the Heritage flame for just the second time, marking the UK’s unique role in the history of the Paralympic movement. Tonight’s exciting and inspiring spectacle celebrates the values of courage, determination, equality and inspiration that have been at the heart of the Paralympic movement since its beginnings.”

One of the greatest ever Paralympians, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who won 16 medals (11 gold, four silver, one bronze) across five Paralympic Games, was given the honour of lighting the Heritage Paralympic torch and was thrilled by the experience:

“It was absolutely amazing to light the torch. The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games are going to be incredible. We’ll see amazing sport. Stoke Mandeville is so important to the Paralympic movement because this is where it all started. We’re really proud of what London did and we’re really proud to handover to Rio. My message to everyone in Brazil is thank you so much for having the Paralympic Games. This is your time, it’s your Games. Enjoy it. Hopefully there is going to be a huge beach party and make the Rio Paralympics the best that they can be.”

The opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will “pass on the endless energy the athletes have,” said Fred Gelli, one of the directors. “When we see a person who suffered an accident and then became an athlete, for us this is the best example of overcoming,” added Gelli who is working alongside fellow directors Marcelo Rubens Paiva, a writer and journalist, and artist Vik Muniz, who created a live work of art during the ceremony.

One of the stars of the show was US snowboarder and Paralympic medallist Amy Purdy, who could be said to embody Gelli’s vision of the inspirational impact of para athletes.

Purdy had both legs amputated below the knee after contracting bacterial meningitis at the age of 19. She competed at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games leaving with the bronze medal, and then became a model, actress and motivational speaker following her athletic success. Purdy also gained more attention when she starred on the TV show ‘Dancing with the Stars’ in the US. At Rio 2016, she will be working as a reporter for NBC, as well as performing a five-minute routine that has required intense training during 45 days in Rio.

Paiva said Purdy would be “the Gisele Bundchen” of the Paralympic Games opening ceremony, in reference to the Brazilian model who starred in the Rio Olympic Games opening ceremony in August.

“It will be a contemporary dance, with Brazilian elements,” said Purdy, who has been training in samba dancing. “Having this opportunity to perform for the whole world, with millions of people watching, is an enormous responsibility. That’s why I’m training so hard.”

With a theme of “Every Body Has a Heart,” the Stoke Mandeville ceremony was staged by 500 professional staff (including choreographers and artists) and 2,000 volunteers. More than 4,000 athletes, representing more 160 teams, will parade along two stages on the sacred grass of the Maracana from 7 September to 18 September.

“The ceremony is the biggest symbol of tolerance and respect for others,” said Paiva, author of ‘Happy Old Year’, in which he recounts the changes in his life after an accident while diving into a waterfall that left him paraplegic at age 20.

 The Egyptian delegation has 44 athletes led by Hayat Khattab. “Our athletes are ready for the challenge, and the sponsorship that was provided to the champions will be repaid as they will gain a number of gold medals and raise the Egyptian flag,” Khattab announced in a press conference held prior to the Games. She also said that qualifying for the Paralympics had drastically changed since London 2012 as a number of categories were merged together which was reflected in the number of athletes qualifying. Khattab added that the new system “made it difficult for a number of our athletes to make it to the Games. As an example, Mottawai Abdel-Baki, who has long experience in athletics, had to switch to sitting volleyball after his category in athletics was cancelled so we lost hope for a medal.”

The best hope of the Egyptians will be the powerlifting team which consists of 17 players and has big names Fatma Omar who collected four gold medals in the four Paralympic Games she participated in the 61kg category. Sherif Othman, the world champion in the 59kg, has two gold medals in two Paralympics, in addition to Metwalli Mathana who has four gold medals and one bronze from previous Games.

In the aquatics event, Egypt is participating with two swimmers, one of whom is the youngest participant and the first female swimmer to represent Egypt in the Paralympics, Ayattalah Ayman who is 16.

Egypt will also compete in table tennis with five players, including Ibrahim Al-Husseini Hamadtu, a double amputee who is the only player in the world who plays table tennis with the racket in his mouth.

Egypt will also be participating in track and field with six players.

Khaled Abdel-Aziz, Egypt’s minister of youth and sports, was at the press conference held before the Paralympics, encouraging the players on. He said the Paralympians should be treated as equally as their able-bodied counterparts in bonuses given for the gold, silver and bronze medals in addition to publishing their photos in all news organisations and putting their pictures up on bridges and flyovers. “We are trying our best to give you an equal chance and I am sure you will collect more medals and that is why the ministry is delaying the celebration of the Olympians until you are back with the medals,” Abdel-Aziz told the Paralympians.

In the Rio Olympics in August, Egypt tallied three bronze medals.

In Egypt’s Paralympic history, in the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics, Egypt collected 20 medals: seven gold, six silver and seven bronze. In the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, Egypt won 30 medals: eight gold, 11 silver and 11 bronze. In the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, Egypt got 28 medals: six gold, 12 silver and 10 bronze. In the 2004 Athens Paralympics the country garnered 24 medals: seven gold, nine silver and eight bronze. In the 2008 Beijing, Egypt went home with a total of 12 medals: four gold, four silver and four bronze. In London 2012, Egypt bagged 15 medals: four gold, four silver and seven bronze.

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