Fri, Aug 31 2012 12:44 PM Posted By: Phillip Brents
Challenges are what drive the human spirit and that ideal is perhaps best exemplified by the Paralympic Games, the world’s premier multi-sport event for disabled athletes that emulates the Olympic experience.
The first organized athletic event for disabled athletes that coincided with the modern Olympic Games took place on the opening day of the 1948 London Games. Called the 1948 International Wheelchair Games, the event showcased British World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries.
The Paralympic Games are now held in tandem with both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. The first Paralympic Games to include disabled athletes other than war veterans took place in Rome in 1960. The first Paralympic Winter Games took place in 1976 in Sweden.
There have been several milestones since then.
The first Paralympic Games to follow the Summer Olympic Games, using the same facilities, took place in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988. That precedent was followed up in both 1992 and 1996 for the Summer Games and in 1992 for the Winter Games.
In 2001 the International Paralympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee reached a formal agreement for joint usage of facilities.
The Paralympic Games movement has grown dramatically. Four hundred athletes competed in 1960 in Rome; more than 3,900 Paralympians competed in 2008 in Beijing.
A record 4,200 para-athletes will compete in the 2012 London Paralympics (Aug. 29 to Sept. 9) — 1,100 alone in the track and field competition.
Prior to the creation of the Paralympic Games, athletes with disabilities did compete in the Olympic Games. American gymnast George Eyser, who had one artificial leg, competed at the 1904 Olympic Games.
History continues to unfold, and close to home.
The Chula Vista Olympic Training Center provides equal access training facilities for athletes involved in national team Paralympic disciplines such as track and field and soccer. Many Paralympians are resident athletes at the tranquil 155-acre facility overlooking the Lower Otay Reservoir.
The U.S. Paralympic Games archery team was named following a final qualifying shoot in April at the CV-OTC.
Eight resident-athletes earned berths on the U.S. Paralympic track and field team. Blake Leeper, a double amputee, and Lex Gillette, who is blind, are perhaps the highest profile Paralympians at the CV-OTC.
Both compete in track and field — Leeper is a sprinter while Gillette competes in the long jump as well as the sprints.
Their stories have provided inspiration for countless elementary-age school children who have visited the Chula Vista facility during field trips.
Leeper, who will be competing in his first Paralympic Games, set Americas records in both the 100-meter dash (10.95) and 200-meter dash (21.70) at the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Trials in Indianapolis in late June.
The native of Kingston, Tenn., will be facing a stacked field in the Paralympic Games 100 dash final that includes U.S. teammate Jerome Singleton (Irmo, S.C.), the self-proclaimed “fastest Amputee in the world,” as well as South African “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius, the reigning Paralympic Games champion in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter distances, in the T43/44 category.
Pistorius won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games in 11.16, followed by Singleton in 11.19 with the silver medal.
Given that this rates as the fastest field in Paralympics history, observers are already predicting it may take a 10.8 time to win the 100m this time around in London.
“There are going to be some good races,” Leeper said.
Pistroius made history by becoming the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic Games after reaching the semifinals in the men’s 400 dash and the final in the 4x400 relay during the just completed 2012 London Games.
Singleton is the only other para-athlete to beat Pistrious head-to-head in a race, accomplished this past January.
Leeper tied Pistorius’s world record time of 10.91 in a meet in Canada just prior to the start of the London Olympiad.
The men’s 100 final is scheduled Sept. 6 and should be the most anticipated event of the 2012 Paralympic Games, which has grown to embrace para-athletes from 164 nations.
More than 2.5 million tickets have already been sold, thus guaranteeing the 2012 Paralympic Games as the most attended in the event’s history.
Gillette, a North Carolina native, won the silver medal in the long jump (F11 category at both the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic Games. He is regarded as the world’s fastest totally blind athlete over 100 meters (T11) and is the world record-holder in the long jump.
He lost complete sight in both eyes at age 8 due to continued retinal detachments. However, that did not dampen his spirit. His personal website (www.lexgillette.com) is emblazoned with the message: No Need For Sight When You Have Vision.
His goal remains to win a Paralympic gold medal.
Joining Leeper and Gillette in London are CV-OTC resident athletes Jeremy Campbell (discus), Chris Clemens (long jump, sprints), Josiah Jamison (sprints), Jeff Skiba (high jump, javelin), David Brown (sprints), Markeith Price (400 dash, long jump), and Shaquile Vance (sprints).
Campbell and Skiba may be the most decorated local Paralympians on the list after both medaled at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.
Campbell, the brother of NFL Kansas City Chiefs’ Caleb Campbell, won gold medals in the men’s pentathlon (P44) and discus throw (F44). He also set a world record in the men’s pentathlon.
Skiba, 28, won a gold medal in the men’s high jump (P44) and a silver medal in the men’s pentathlon (P44) at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.
Jamison won the gold medal in the 100 meters (T12) in Beijing.
Wes Williams, Roland Slade and Jerome Avery act as guide runners and are also included on the Paralympic team.
Williams guides Gillette down the runway via verbal and audio signals.
Avery has worked as a full-time guide runner for U.S. Paralympics since 2004.
Vance, who is making his Paralympic Games debut, said he has one goal to accomplish in London: “To win it all.”
Overall, more than 30 para-athletes will represent the Chula Vista facility at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
Besides the large track and field contingent, resident para-athlete David Wagner will compete in wheelchair tennis.
The list of other participants is drawn from short-term residency programs involving the U.S. Paralympic rowing team (mixed coxed fours), U.S. Paralympic soccer team, U.S. Paralympic archery team, U.S. Paralympic cycling team and other short-term track and field para-athletes.
CV-OTC director Tracy Lamb called participation a key element at the local facility, which also serves international athletes and para-athletes. Lamb noted that U.S. able-bodies athletes and para-athletes train side-by-side.
“We prefer to think of our Paralympians as athletes who simply compete in a different category,” Lamb said.
Getting their kicks
U.S. Paralympic national team men’s soccer team coach Jay Hoffman announced his 12-player roster for the 2012 Paralympic Games following a month-long camp in June at the CV-OTC. The U.S. team is led by midfielder Josh McKinney, who reached the 100-cap milestone in May.
The team is on relatively young side, with an average age of 24. Forward Rene Renteria, 23, has scored four goals in his last four international matches while three 20-year-olds also hope to make an impact: midfielders Adam Ballou and Tyler Bennett and defender Chad Jones.
Goalkeeper Alex Hendricks is the younger player on the team at 16.
The U.S. opens the eight-team, seven-a-side tournament on Sept. 1 against the Ukraine and will play Brazil on Sept. 3 and host Great Britain on Sept. 5.
The U.S. squad trained through Aug. 13 at the Chula Vista OTC before leaving for England.
Chula Vista Olympic Training Center 2012 Paralympians
Jerome Avery: guide runner for Josiah Jamison; 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay
David Brown: 2012 U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Trials gold medalist in 100m, 200m
Jeremy Campbell: 2008 Paralympic Games gold medalist in discus, pentathlon
Chris Clemens: 2012 U.S. Paralympic 100 and 200m sprinter and long jumper, Navy veteran, ranked No. 1 in the world in the long jump
Lex Gillette: 2008 and 2004 Paralympic Games silver medalist in long jump
Blake Leeper: 2012 U.S. Paralympic national champion in 100m, 200 and 400m
Josiah Jamison: 2008 Paralympic Games 100m gold medalist
Markeith Price: 2012 U.S. national champion in 400m, long jump
Jeff Skiba: 2008 Paralympic Games gold medalist in high jump, silver medalist in pentathlon
Roland Slade: guide runner for David Brown; 100 and 200m
Shaquille Vance: 2012 U.S. Paralympic national champion 100m gold medalist, 200m silver medalist
U.S. Paralympic rowing team (mixed coexed fours): Alexandra Stein, Dorian Weber, Eleni Englert, Andrew Johnson, Emma Preuschl; Preuschl won silver in the adaptive four with coxswain at the 2008 Paralympic Games
U.S. Paralympic soccer team: U.S. team’s best place finish was fourth at the 1996 Paralympic Games
U.S. Paralympic archery team: Seven archers are bound for London; Jeff Fabry is a 2008 Paralympic Games bronze medalist
Compiled by Trent Warren
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