Paralympians prove they are ready for Rio 2016

Paul Letters says more integration of disabled and able-bodied athletes should be considered

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 August, 2013, 5:56am

Following the fastest ever 100-metre race by Paralympians last month, we should expect to see them lining up alongside Olympian sprinters such as Usain Bolt in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

I sat in the huge crowd at London's Anniversary Games, where Paralympians competed in the Olympic Stadium on the day after able-bodied athletes, and witnessed history-making performances. In one 100 metre race, five para-athletes achieved personal best times and Richard Browne (USA) and Alan Oliveira - trumpeted as Brazil's poster boy for Rio 2016 - set world records for single and double amputees respectively.

Some commentators dismiss the blade runners' true competitiveness with able-bodied athletes in the shorter sprints because of their slow start due to limited propulsion out of the blocks. Over longer distances, including even the 200 metre, their competitiveness is stronger, as South African Oscar Pistorius demonstrated to some extent in the 400 metre at the Olympics.

The rise of 20-year-old Oliveira presents exciting possibilities for his home Olympics in 2016. His recent 200 metre time of 20.66sec would have gained him a place alongside Bolt in the 2012 Olympic final. The double amputee won the 100 metre in 10.57sec last week, hacking 0.76sec off the time he attained in the same stadium one year earlier.

A blurring of lines could occur for other sports, such as archery, shooting and, with the Olympian times set by Paralympian Sarah Storey in 2012, even cycling. Most events would remain distinctly separate but future integration could occur through alternate days - or even alternate races - for Olympians and Paralympians.

London 2012 saw great gains, yet viewing figures for the Olympics were still around a billion higher than for the Paralympics. The 65,000 spectators at London's Anniversary Games suggest Britain - a world leader in disabled rights as a whole - has shown the demand for Paralympic athletics.

To stimulate and sustain such interest around the globe, future Olympic and Paralympic Games should be combined within one over-arching tournament - and, to emphasise their equal worth, feed into one medal table (where, in 2012, China would have pushed the USA - top in the Olympics - down to second place overall).

Sensible rules are needed for any degree of integration - and Paralympians are demanding this much in time for Rio - to ensure fairness. For example, if wheelchair athletes like David Weir were allowed to pit their arm power against leg power in the Olympic marathon, the scale of defeat would be embarrassing - for the able-bodied athletes.

Paul Letters is a political commentator and writer. For his forthcoming second world war novel, Providence, see