Paralympics 2012: A milestone for disabled sports?

Group picture (Photo: London 2012)
These people bring the Paralympic flame to London. (Photo: London 2012)

The 2012 Paralympics in London (29.8 - 2.9.) promise to show great sport and a fantastic atmosphere. They are also an important step to bring the subject of disabled sport closer to a wider audience.

The 2012 Paralympics in London might become a milestone for disabled sports. The athletes use equally the infrastructure of the XXXth Summer Olympics. The coverage in international media has never been wider.

With more than 4200 athletes from 160 nations, a record number of athletes will be at the start. They will delight the audiences with their enthusiasm and zest for life. The 2012 Paralympics promise to be an impressive sporting event where athletes and spectators will be offered a lot, as the following overview shows:

The Olympic Torch Relay

The tradition of the Olympic flame goes back to ancient Greece. Shorter is the history of the torch relay of the Paralympic Games. It was first held at the 1988 Games in Seoul. The torch relay attracts attention even days before the opening of the Paralympics. The torch relay for the Paralympic Games in London is held from 24 to 29 August.

Four separate flames will be lit in London, Greater Belfast (Northern Ireland), Edinburgh (Scotland) and Cardiff (Wales), before they are lit and combined as the Paralympic flame in Stoke Mandeville, the actual birthplace of the sports games. 580 torchbearers will carry the flame over a distance of 87 miles to London and will pass among others the Piccadilly Circus, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street, Trafalgar Square and Tower Bridge.

The Paralympic Village

Next to the Olympic Village with its competition venues, there is the Paralympic Village, which will house thousands of athletes during the Games. The village leaves no wish unfulfilled. As well as the venues, it is designed fully accessible. There is a cinema, a supermarket, a post office as well as a bank, internet cafes, a hospital and a food centre with 4500 seats. There, food will be offered from all around the world. Lounges invite to stay, so that the athletes can get to know each other there.

Together with the competition venues, a new village emerged in the former industrial neighbourhood in London's East End, addressing sustainability. Because after the Paralympic Games, it will be converted into a settlement with more than 2800 new homes. In the whole area, new office space, schools and parks are planned.

food centre with 4500 seats (Photo: London 2012)
In the Olympic village, up to 4500 athletes can be catered at the same time. (Photo: London 2012)

The competition venues

The Paralympics take place in the Olympic Park in London, as well as around and outside the capital. The opening ceremony, and eleven days later the closing ceremony, are held in the Olympic Stadium on 29 August. The stadium is also the venue for the athletics competitions. In the futuristic Aquatic Centre the best swimmers will compete. The Velodrome is home to the Para-cycling track events; the 5-a-side and 7-a-side football games are played at the Hockey Center. Goalball is played in the handball arena, while the basketball arena part hosts the wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby games. More wheelchair basketball games will be held in the North Greenwich Arena.

Wheelchair tennis is not played at Wimbledon on grass but on hard courts at Eton Manor. In the Royal Greenwich Park, the Paralympic equestrian athletes fight for gold, silver and bronze. For the rowing regattas, Dorney Lake was created, an artificial greater, almost rectangular lake in the county of Buckinghamshire.

The Royal Artillery Barracks are the venues of the archery and shooting, while the sailors use the sailing centre in Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy on the south coast of England. Last but not least, the venerable racing track at Brands Hatch learns a new use. During the Paralympics, the road cycling race will be held here.

The mascot

As for the Olympic Games, there is also a mascot for the Paralympics. At the Paralympics in London in 2012, it is called "Mandeville" The name goes back to the village of Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire where the Paralympic Games have their origin. As Wenlock, the mascot of the Olympic Games, Mandeville is also a steel drop turned into a human, dedicated to the steel industry in Bolton. It was only the second time since the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver that the mascots of the Olympic and Paralympic Games are presented together.

The Medals

At the 2012 Paralympics and the Olympics together, 4700 medals go to the successful athletes. They are produced by the Royal Mint, the mint of the United Kingdom. The medals weigh 400 g each, have a diameter of 85 millimeters and are 7 millimeters thick. The gold medals consist of 92.5 percent silver and 6 percent copper and 1.5 percent gold. For the first time ever, the silver value of the gold medals is greater than the value of gold.

Mandeville (Photo: London 2012)
Mandeville is the mascot of the Paralympics 2012. (Photo: London 2012)

Inspire a Generation

"Inspire a Generation" is the slogan for the 2012 Paralympics in London.

The biggest games

The 2012 Paralympics will be the biggest sports games of persons with disabilities of all time. 4200 athletes are expected, about 250 more than four years ago in Beijing. Athletes from 165 nations will take part, 16 countries send athletes for the first time to the Paralympics: These are Antigua and Barbuda, Brunei, Cameroon, Comoros, Djibouti, Congo, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique , North Korea, San Marino, Solomon Islands, Trinidad and Tobago and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Star

All Paralympic athletes are winners. They are are impressive idols that show what great achievement athletes with disabilities can make. At the Paralympics 2012, one athlete will especially attract the attention of viewers and the media: Oscar Pistorius. The athlete from South Africa makes headlines for years with his carbon prosthetics. In the Olympics, he was the first amputee athlete at the start and reached the semi-finals for 400 meters. At the Paralympics, he tries again a few weeks later to defend his gold medals from Beijing for 100, 200 and 400 meters.

Pistorius is in the spotlight for the endless debate over whether his high-tech prosthetics are an advantage or a disadvantage. Here, however, it is likely forgotten that even before Pistorius, disabled athletes participated in the Olympic competitions. Examples are the Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka, who was born without a right forearm, and Dong Huyn from South Korea. The archer can only see clearly into distance, at short range he is practically blind. He won gold at the Olympic Games in London 2012.

The Paralympic Games in the media

Around 6000 media representatives will report live on site from the Paralympics. The media coverage is as high as never before in the history of the Paralympic Games. This is especially evident in the extensive television coverage. The Organising Committee of the Games has concluded contracts with TV stations which cover an almost global broadcasting.

Text: Patrick Gunti - 08/2012

Translation: MPL - 08/2012

Photos: London 2012