Tuesday, 16 September 2008


I posted a couple of times on the Olympics, so its probably only fair that I comment on the Paralympics.

I haven't been watching an awful lot, although I did see quite a bit on Saturday. The ABC coverage gets 10 for effort, but to be honest, some of the commentators are pretty crap. I was watching a close wheelchair basketball game, and the team that was down was fouling as soon as the other team inbounded, which is simply what you do in that situation, in any form of basketball, but the commentators seemed to have no idea why it was happening, which is just weird.

Unlike the Olympics, all of the sports I've seen in the paralympics are objective - no diving, dressage, gymnastics or judo. I am a little uneasy about the classification systems, but its an inevitable problem - the disabilities that people have are different, and although they have lots of categories (and hence LOTS AND LOTS of events), you still get people with wildly different disabilities competing against each other - someone with cystic fibrosis swimming against someone with no arms, against someone with one arm and one leg. This makes it interesting, but in some respects its a bit less even. What is incontestable, though, is just how impressive the individual performances are. Seeing someone with no arms swim 100m of I-guess-you'd-call-it-butterfly is just super-impressive (although banging into the wall with their head makes me giggle, I confess), and the number of personal bests is just amazing. I saw a swimming relay last night where the Australian team took the world record from 4:22 to 4:11, which is just crazy. There have been similar big records elsewhere in swimming and in track - one Kenyan arm-amputee runner broke the 5000m world record by 19 seconds (he earlier broke the 1500m record by 6 seconds).

The team sports are the best of all. Wheelchair basketball is impressive, and seems to be the marquee event. Australia won bronze last night, beating Japan, having taken out the world-champion Canadians in the quarter-finals (the Australians might be the second-best team in the tournament, after the Americans). The men are playing for gold tonight against the Canadians.

My favourite, though, is the wheelchair rugby. The Australians have this guy, Ryley Batt, who is just a superstar. He's a big bloke, built like a prop, which superficially might seem an advantage in a sport called rugby, but it really makes little difference. What sets him apart is his speed in the chair and particularly his acceleration. More than any other player he's a nightmare in terms of blocking the runs of one or more players on defense, and of quick spins and acceleration to get out of traps in attack. He beat the New Zealanders scoring with 0.2 seconds earlier in the tournament, and last night he was key in beating the Canadians in overtime (the Canadians had a great chance to send it to a second overtime but had a skill error on the last play).

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