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Paralympics Closing Ceremony

Paralympics Closing Ceremony

The Beijing Paralympics wrapped up yesterday with yet another spectacular ceremony at the wonderful Bird’s Nest stadium giving delirious athletes a chance to say goodbye after an extremely successful Games. Sounds like a similar story to four weeks ago when the Olympics ended on a high – we were even treated to another show of gormless flag waving from an open-suited Mayor of London.

Unfortunately Bob has been awol for the last three weeks and has not been able to continue regular blogging throughout the Paralympics, and this is not an attempt to brush it under the carpet as ‘similar to the Olympics’; reviews of the Paralympics will follow. Bob has been keeping up with the news from Beijing, but upon returning to work in London has suffered from excess of work and shortage of post-Beijing motivation, both of which have stifled blogging.

As the Paralympic athletes return to their respective homes there do seem to be a number of parallels with the Olympics:

  • The organisers will be breathing a sigh of relief after another almost trouble-free event. They have been widely congratulated by athletes, officials and observers alike (and are not afraid of exhibiting this in the Chinese media)
  • The ceremonies have been grand and spectacular
  • The volunteers have been lauded and celebrated for their enthusiasm and sheer number

    Volunteers at the 2008 Olympics at Shanghai Stadium

    Volunteers at the 2008 Olympics at Shanghai Stadium

  • China have topped the medal table
  • The British team are celebrating an extraordinary performance (although the athletics has been a disappointment)
  • Questions are being asked about how London will measure up to Beijing
  • Despite fantastic organisation, comments have been made about Beijing’s lack of atmosphere and ‘fun’

Over the next two weeks Bob will discuss the Paralympics, the aftermath of both events in Beijing 2008, the implications for China, and the lessons for London in 2012. Then the Beijing Olympics Blog will be wrapped up for good, and some new chapters will be opened.

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The Olympics are over, and most of the athletes have returned home to be paraded in front of adoring crowds. Now it is Bob’s turn to do the same (minus the crowds), back in Shanghai again now and the UK tomorrow.

However this is not the end of the events in Beijing, or the Beijing Olympics Blog – the 2008 Paralympics will kick off in a matter of days (unfortunately Bob’s 30 day visa does not allow for this to be covered as well), and there is still plenty to digest from the summer, so watch this space.

It’s been another wonderful trip to China – many thanks to everyone who has helped to make it so; friends and colleagues, former students and volunteers, landlords, shop keepers and taxi drivers.

It has certainly been a successful Olympics (as CCTV constantly reminds us), for which the organisers must be commended. The stadia and facilities have been immense, the volunteers have shone and the organisers have mixed security with convenience to ensure everything has worked smoothly and they have largely escaped criticism.

Well organised does not always mean fun, however. And this is one thing that Beijing could have delivered more of. Within the stadiums the atmosphere has mostly been superb, but outside the enthusiasm has been dispersed and diluted in the vastness of Beijing.

The wide roads and large buildings in Beijing can be disorienting, and can give you the impression of an echo, bouncing around in a void. It lacks the local environments which can stimulate spontaneity and excitement. London has these spaces in abundance, as does Shanghai these days, so for this Bob is less sad about leaving Beijing. The ability to create a great atmosphere and spaces for fans, athletes and locals to unite will be key for London if they hope to host a successful Olympics (much as Sydney managed).

Anyway, more on the pro’s and con’s of the Beijing Games, and what London will need to do later…

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The international news and the blogosphere this week has rightfully been dominated by coverage of the dreadful events in Sichuan, and the relief efforts. It’s difficult to concentrate on other news.

Oscar \'The Blade Runner\' Pistorius

However this Friday saw ground-breaking news that will reflect strongly on the Olympics, if not in Beijing then certainly in future events. After months of appeal Oscar Pistorius has been told by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that he is free to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing (full report here).

This ruling has over-turned the decision made by the IAAF that had barred him from competing against able-bodied athletes. The IAAF’s decision was based on the theory that Pistorius’ carbon fibre prosthetics give him an unfair advantage, as proven by research last November. The Court of Arbitration concluded that this research was flawed.

For a fuller discussion of the reasoning behind the ruling see the New York Times’ new Olympics blog.

What does this mean…?

Firstly it means that Oscar Pistorius can run in the 400m at the Beijing Olympic Games, if he reaches the qualifying time. Courtesy of the NYT again the qualifying time for the South African Olympic team is “45.95 seconds, or 45.55 if another South African qualifies. Pistorius’s personal best at 400 meters is 46.46”. This seems unlikely, but failing this Oscar could still run in the 4 x 400m relay.

Oscar is viewing the situation in the long term, and London 2012 could be the pinnacle for his ambitions: “Now I can definitely say the truth has come out. I have the opportunity once again to chase my dream of the Olympics if not 2008, in 2012.”

For other disabled athletes with Olympic dreams this will act as a spur of encouragement, though the Court were clear in pointing out that this was specific to this case and not to be applied across the board:

Ossur Cheetah Flex Sprint III

“The panel’s decision has absolutely no application to any other athlete, or other type of prosthetic limb.

Each case must be considered by the I.A.A.F. on its own merits. The ruling does not grant a blanket license to other single or double amputees to compete in I.A.A.F.-sanctioned events using Cheetah Flex-Foot Prosthetics or indeed any other type of prosthesis.”

It does seem unlikely, however, that another athlete using the Cheetah® Sprint Feet (manufactured by Ossur) would be refused entry to the Olympic Games without considerably more research. Whether or not it is correct, the situations will surely be reassessed when an athlete with prosthetics or other artificial aids is out-competing their able-bodied ‘un-assisted’ opponents.

For now, the Beijing Olympic Games look likely to benefit from the participation of another superb athlete and great character. The Blade Runner rides again.

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One of the largest events to take place in 2008 in the build up to the Games in Beijing this summer is the Paralympic World Cup.

400 athletes from 45 countries are completing over 5 days in Manchester; they started on Wednesday, and the events will be wrapped up tomorrow. The PWC only includes 4 sports; track cycling, swimming, wheelchair basketball and athletics, which doesn’t seem like much in comparison to the 20 events featured on the Beijing Paralympics pictograms chart.

This is however, only the fourth time that

The story so far:

Cycling

Yesterday (Day 3) saw the culmination of the cycling, and capped off an extremely successful couple of days for the British team. A total of 9 golds, 3 silvers and 4 bronze medals, were collected with a number of world records to match.

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The Shanghaiist has come up trumps this weekend with a showcase of over a dozen songs to have been shortlisted for the honour of the official Beijing Olympics theme song.

The songs come from some of the creme de la creme of the Chinese pop world, including Andy Lau (Andy Liu), S.H.E. and numerous participants past and present from the ‘Super Girls‘ TV contest (Chinese versions of Pop Idol/American Idol).

The videos are interesting; they seem to feature the whole A to Z of Olympic sports, from archery to fencing to shooting to volley ball (ok, A to V). Interestingly Andy Lau and Han Hong & Yu Quan have opted to feature paralympic stories – as has been discussed here before disability is not a particularly open topic in China. A cynic may suggest this is for commercial reasons, but Bob would never be so unkind.

The Beijing Olympics Blog would like to put it’s considerable weight behind it’s favourite song; Fly together 一起飞 by Tan Jing (谭晶) and Yan Wei Wen (阎维文) (above). Bob is at risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy by choosing this tune – one of the more old-fashioned efforts featuring less fashionable artists – but in defence it is the most rousing of the songs, and features some nice shots of Beijing landmarks in the video. A close second is I’m a Star by Emil Chau for the shameless use of cute children. Olympic sponsors Coca-cola have been busy again, heavily branding the star-studded entry from Hong Kong artists S.H.E, Wil Pan andJacky Cheung.

Let’s hope the selectors choose wisely, as we will all be hearing the winning song an awful lot this summer!

The Shanghaiist also included the song Welcome to Beijing (above), released to mark the 100 day countdown to the start of the Biejing Olympics.

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The Road to Beijing is a phrase many will be familiar this year. But today Bob came across a rather appropriate use of this pun, by the British Paralympic Association (BPA) – www.paralympics.org.uk/RoadToBeijing

With nice use of Google maps, the BPA have charted the route from London to Beijing that their athletes, and they are encouraging supporters to complete a mile for sponsorship. (Another nice use of Google maps is Dan Beekman’s Bloggin Beijing interactive map.)

Road To Beijing Paralympics

“The idea is simple. Get behind our ParalympicsGB Team, complete a mile of your choice, collect sponsorship and get yourself on the map. The more miles completed, the closer we get to Beijing.”

It would be interesting to know the difference in funding between the BPA and the BOA; fund raising is clearly more of a priority from the BPA. This is not a plea for sponsorship, simply highlighting a nice idea. Of course there are plenty worse ways to spend your time and money…

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Oscar ‘The Blade Runner’ Pistorius

Oscar ‘The Blade Runner’ Pistorius has been given a date with CAS – The Court of Arbitration for Sport – to find out finally whether he will be able to compete in the Beijing Olympics, as opposed to the Paralympics. The date, 29th & 30th April.

This January the IAAF ruled that Pistorius could not compete against able-bodied athletes, because his “prosthetic limbs gave Pistorius an unfair advantage because he uses 25% less energy than an able-bodied runner”. But if the CAS overrule this then the Blade Runner will be free to fulfill his dream of competing at the Olympic Games.

Oh…there is one more thing. Pistorius will still have to qualify for the South African team in his chosen event (400m); at present his fastest time is 1 second outside qualification time. Still this will seem like a tiny hurdle after all that Pistorius has been through. Realistically this is about more than his chance of winning an Olympic medal – last summer Oscar raced the best for the first time in Sheffield, and didn’t trouble the leaders (watch the race below) – but there is an important principle/precedent at stake, as he puts it himself:

“This case is important not just to me, but to all disabled persons who just ask for the chance to compete fairly on the sporting field with able-bodied athletes.”

Could this be another legacy of the Beijing Games?

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