Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
What next on Iran’s nuclear deal: follow the news here
South African double amputee Oscar Pistorius takes the start of the men's 400m heats during the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
South African double amputee Oscar Pistorius takes the start of the men's 400m heats during the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Australia’s Matthew Cowdrey is shown competing in the 2011 Australian Swimming Championships’ 50-metre freestyle event.
Australia’s Matthew Cowdrey is shown competing in the 2011 Australian Swimming Championships’ 50-metre freestyle event.
The UK’s David Weir in action in the Men's T54 1500m race the during the Visa London Disability Athletics Challenge LOCOG Test Event for the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
The UK’s David Weir in action in the Men's T54 1500m race the during the Visa London Disability Athletics Challenge LOCOG Test Event for the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

London welcomes the world - again

Just a couple of weeks after the Olympic flame was extinguished in London, it is now the turn of 4,200 disabled athletes to enthrall the world.

The world's top athletes with a disability, including "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius, converge on London next week for what organisers say will be the biggest and most high-profile Paralympics in the Games' 52-year history.

A record 4,200 athletes from 166 countries will compete, with the 11-day Games a near sell-out and expected to be watched by an international television audience in the hundreds of millions.

Britain is considered the birthplace of the Paralympic movement, after Second World War veterans with spinal injuries competed in archery events at Stoke Mandeville in southern England in 1948, 12 years before the first official Games in Rome.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said that history, a desire to see more elite sport after a successful Olympics, increased media coverage and sponsorship have combined to drive up interest and awareness.

"There's a fantastic buzz in the air, waiting for it to kick off and people talking about it," said Philip Craven, the IPC president. The opening ceremony will be held on Wednesday.

China held the last Paralympics in Beijing in 2008 and did much to raise the Games' profile.

The previous hosts won 211 medals, including 89 gold, and will be looking to replicate that success this time round.

But challenging them will be the current hosts, who came third in the Olympics medal table, galvanising wide support for the Games across the country and lifting a national mood hit by lingering economic woes.

ParalympicsGB have been set a minimum target of 103 medals from at least 12 different sports - one better than in Beijing - and to match their second-place finish four years ago.

For the home team, hopes are highest for athletes such as Jonnie Peacock, who in June set a T44 100 metres record of 10.85 seconds and is expected to challenge South Africa's Pistorius for gold in the showpiece track event.

With Pistorius's long-standing rival Jerome Singleton, of the United States, and a host of other lightning-fast sprinters likely to line up in the final, organisers even predict that all eight runners could dip under 11 seconds.

Among the wheelchair racers, Britain's David Weir, the T54 800 metres and 1,500 metres champion four years ago, is set to renew his rivalries with Australia's Kurt Fearnley and Swiss world record holder Marcel Hug.

In the pool, Ellie Simmonds has become a poster girl for the Games after winning two golds in Beijing aged just 13.

But alongside Pistorius - the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics and the Paralympics' biggest star - there are other big names.

South Africa's Natalie Du Toit is retiring after a decade at the top, while Matthew Cowdrey - an eight-times gold medallist - needs just three more golds to surpass athlete Tim Sullivan to become Australia's most successful Paralympian.

London will also see veteran medallists such as the shooter Jonas Jacobsson, the dressage specialist Lee Pearson and the Dutch wheelchair tennis player Esther Vergeer going for gold again alongside first-time athletes from smaller nations.

Now 47, Sweden's Jacobsson has competed in eight Paralympics and has 16 golds; Pearson, of Britain, has won gold at every Games since Sydney 12 years ago; while Vergeer won in 2000, 2004 and 2008 and is unbeaten in more than 450 matches.

The US Virgin Islands will have their first Paralympian with the rider Lee Frawley, while North Korea makes its debut in the competition with the swimmer Rim Ju Song.

About 200 athletes with intellectual disabilities will also compete for the first time since Sydney and a scandal involving the eligibility of Spain's basketball team.

And while every athlete has as much determination to overcome adversity as talent and skill, few have as remarkable a back story as Martine Wright, who lost her legs in the 2005 suicide attacks in London - a day after the city was awarded the Games.

She will be a member of Britain's sitting volleyball team.

Sebastian Coe, the London organising committee chairman, has repeatedly maintained that the Paralympics and the Olympics are two equal parts of the same event.

"We want to change public attitudes towards disability, celebrate the excellence of Paralympic sport and to enshrine from the very outset that the two Games are an integrated whole," he said.

 

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National