Yoo Byung-hoon, a wheelchair track athlete, pushes his wheelchair at the Goyang Sports Complex in Gyeonggi Province, Monday, in preparation for the Beijing Paralympics.
/ Korea Times Photo by Bae Ji-sook
By Bae Ji-sook
As the heat of the Summer Olympics fades, the city of Beijing will now host another festival of sports ― the Paralympics.
From Sept. 6 -17, 7,000 people from 140 countries will gather to share athlete's competitiveness, friendship and promote disabled people's sports. People with physical, sensorial and mental disabilities will be competing in over 20 different sports including archery, athletics and wheelchair tennis.
A Korean squad of 79 players and 54 officials will also be joining the games aiming to take the 14th place with 13 gold, six silver and seven bronze medals.
The outlook for the Korean team is quite bright ― there are several athletes holding world records: Park Jong-chul in power lifting, Min Byeong-eon in swimming and Hong Suk-man in athletics track. Yu Hee-sang, director of athletics, said the athletes were quite sensitive but in a stable condition. ``We have found some showing remarkable progress since staying at the camp for training. They are feeling a lot more pressure but at the same time they are confident that this will be a great opportunity to show off what they've got,'' Yu said.
Just days before leaving on Sept. 1, the teams are now making their last ditch efforts to raise their personal performances and maintain a good physical condition.
It is true that Paralympics is not as popular among non-disabled people. Though Korea has a history having hosted one in 1988 after the Seoul Olympics, the limelight or public support the players are getting is negligent.
The athletes said the Games are just as same as the Olympics, adding that in fact it could be much more interesting.
One of the charms is the diversity of the participants ― some sports are classified into several events depending on the degree of disability.
For example, table tennis has more than 10 events and players can participate in the games according to their mobility ― there are some who can barely move their arms, others who can move their arms but not fast enough, and those who can move every inch of their arms but cannot move their legs.
Learning about the different game rules from that of non-disabled people and watching the same sport matches played could add some spice to the Olympic heat, observers say.
Hong Duk-ho, a wheelchair track athlete, says his race could be just as powerful as non-disabled people's. ``Some would wonder whether disabled people can show speed in a wheelchair.
``Because we are using tools, you can see the difference between the players in how they control the wheels, gloves and others. In the 800-meters, the speed exceeds that of non-disabled people's. You could feel the thrill just as much as the others,'' he said.
Wheelchair basketball, wheel chair tennis may surprise ordinary viewers and football where visually disabled people play led by audio systems informing them of directions will show people that nothing is impossible, experts say.
``But I would like to ask people to scrap their prejudices. This is not a game for some ``disabled'' people only. It will be the place for all kind of people irrespective of their physical or mental condition,'' Hong Suk-man, a gold medallist hopeful, said.
The Paralympics will be broadcast live through www. naver.com.