Paralympian more than a match for 'legend' Bolt

junior reporter Cameron Tucker

Disabled Hong Kong sprinter already has six gold medals

junior reporter Cameron Tucker |

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Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is calling himself a "living legend" after winning three more gold medals at the London Olympics as he retained his 100 metres, 200 metres and 4 x 100 metres relay titles.

Bolt - the world-record holder in the two individual events - and joint world-record holder with his relay teammates - confirmed his status as greatest ever sprinter after defending the three gold medals he won at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Yet even as Bolt enjoys the international acclaim, the little-known Hong Kong sprinter So Wah-wai - the city's most successful Paralympic athlete - has achieved equally remarkable feats.

So, 31, a graduate of the HKRC Princess Alexandra School is about to compete in his fifth Paralympic Games in London. He already has 11 medals. Just like Bolt, six of them are gold.

"It's nothing special, it's just a competition," he says modestly.

So suffers from cerebral palsy, which affects his co-ordination, and was born with jaundice, which left his hearing and balance impaired.

However, he has never let his disabilities get the better of him.

"My everyday life hasn't been affected much, but I can't do things like cutting my nails," he says.

So's rise to prominence - as has been the case with many of his fellow Paralympic teammates - came after being in the right place at the right time.

In 1994 he was spotted by teacher and part-time coach Poon Kiu-liu while he was competing in an inter-school competition. Poon immediately took So under his wing.

Two years later, when he was only 15, So won gold medals in the 4x100m relay event in the T34-37 classification - an event for athletes suffering from cerebral palsy - at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games.

So has gone on to greater success ever since - and credits Poon for his track triumphs.

"He is my greatest inspiration," says So. "He's a friend, he teaches me and spends a lot of his spare time dedicated to my training."

The Paralympics started as a small gathering for second world war veterans in London. And now, many decades later, the Games are about to return to London.

Up to 4,200 competitors from 150 nations will compete in various events in 20 sports during the competition starting on August 29.

The participants come from all walks of life - and with a range of disabilities; what unites them is their love of sports.

While Paralympic athletes may not be as famous as their able-bodied counterparts, they are all equally dedicated to their respective sports.

Sixteen years after Atlanta, So is still enjoying competing. He has been following a rigorous training schedule in the build-up to the London Games.

During weekdays he must train hard and also keeps regular appointments with his physiotherapist.

"In 2010, I injured my knee so I'm taking part in a recovery programme to prevent any further sports-related injuries," he says.

"I am quite nervous about taking part in London, even though this will be my fifth time at the Paralympics. But consulting my sports psychologist helps me to relax."

So is favourite to retain the 200m T36 title, which he won in Beijing - but he remains cautious.

"I have not set a goal for the London Games," he says modestly. "I will try to do my best."

Just being at the Games is a victory for athletes with disabilities.

So and his success have proved an inspiration - to both disabled and able-bodied athletes.

He has always chosen to be the best he can be - despite his disabilities - and also fought to exceed expectations and overcome obstacles in his own way.

His accomplishments are an example of the drive and determination that exist within the human spirit. "Just set out," So says to people hoping to follow in his fast footsteps. "You don't know the result if you don't take that first step."

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