Paralympians have place in Olympic family

Paul Letters calls for the two Games to be combined after the successes of London

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2012, 1:41am

The Paralympic Games have come of age in London, close to where the movement began life in Stoke Mandeville in 1948. The athletes arrived in unprecedented numbers (over 4,000) and performed with extraordinary spirit and prowess, in front of large and enthusiastic crowds, the likes of which have never been seen before: 2.7 million Paralympic tickets were sold, surpassing sales targets by £10 million (HK$124 million).

The Paralympic movement has come a long way since 1968, when the Olympic Games' hosts, Mexico City, refused to hold the Paralympic Games. The Paralympics were held in separate locations from the Olympics for two decades, until South Korea brought about unification in 1988. Since then, the two largest multi-sport events in the world have been held in the same Olympic city, in the same year - but only at the turn of the 21st century did it become mandatory for candidate cities to bid for both.

Combine the two Games, and China, second in this year's Olympic Games' medal table, would have put over 100 medals between itself and the United States through its domination of the Paralympics.

Some cite practical reasons for not integrating the two. While judicious planning ensured physical access was disabled-friendly throughout the two Games in London, it took several days to "paralympify" the Olympic Park by, for example, rearranging the venue seating to cater for more wheelchair spectators. But why could such features not have been in place for both Games?

There is no doubt the Paralympians themselves are worthy of sharing centre stage. Australian swimmer Jacqueline Freney "Phelpsed" her way to eight gold medals from eight events, and is there a greater male athlete in the world than David Weir, wheelchair gold medallist in the 800 metres, 1,500m, 5,000m and the marathon? Men's 100m amputee sprint champion, 19-year-old Jonnie Peacock, ran a time (10.9 seconds) which would have beaten many able-bodied athletes in the Olympic heats a few weeks earlier.

Poster boy of the Games Oscar Pistorius has already mixed it up with the world's best athletes, able-bodied and otherwise. Others, such as Britain's cycling quadruple gold medallist, Sarah Storey, have an eye on the 2016 Olympics, rather than the Paralympics, in Rio.

A combined Olympic and Paralympic Games could still allow for differing categories according to impairments, while also enabling the Peacocks and Pistoriuses to compete within one big Olympic family. Of course, we may need an Olympic Town, more than a village.

Paul Letters' writing interests include China's foreign policies and second world war fiction. See He is also a wheelchair-using sports fan