During the Winter Olympics (non-disabled) what coverage I saw of the games I did feel a twinge of regret that hadn't decided to attend those games...BUT the decision was a great one as the para-Olympics were better than I could have ever imagined.
The first event that we attended was the Wheelchair Curling, it was a first for me on both accounts as I had never seen a wheelchair sport or curling. Essentially it is a form of lawn bowls on ice! These athletes complete from their wheelchairs and they push the stones down the ice with tactics and precision. Fortunately the Canadians were playing and the crowd was going wild with every shot...can I remind you that it is like lawn bowls...hardly a sport you can cheer for but we managed. Can't say I would go out of my way to go again but it was a fun 4hrs watching the crowd and the tactics at work.
The next event we went to was the Sledge Ice Hockey. These guys are crazy, they push themselves across the ice with their upper bodies and at the same time receive and pass the puck with precision. The best part undoubtedly, like any ice hockey was the crashes and brute force used against each other. It kind of looked like watching hermit crabs play soccer on fast forward...hope that image is not to complicated to conjure. Also just like any ice hockey half the fun comes from the antics off the ice and in the crowd. Dancing, music, drums, t-shirt canons and more.
The most rewarding event to attend was the cross-country skiing and biathlon. The track was set up really well so that you could see the entire race unfold, it had many loops that wound around the stands. Events included sitting, standing and visually impaired...yep shooting blind! (they have a gun that connects to headphones and they use sound to aim the gun). Every event was inspiring to watch but 2 of these moments are worth writing about.
- The women's sit down 12.5km biathlon had a lady who finished about 15minutes behind the rest of the field, I'm not sure why or what happened to her but she never gave up. You could see the pain and exhaustion from the close up TV shots and how hard it would be to push yourself uphill on a sled/toboggan with only your arms. The crowd went wild when she finished showing there support for her outstanding effort. Thing amazing thing really is that her time was approx 50min...12.5km in 50min...this is the same time that I run 12.5km and she is just using her arms! Then consider that FOUR times during the 12.5km she deliberately tips over her sled, controls her breathing/heart rate and shoots the 5 targets (each miss being a 1min penalty). AMAZING!
- The men's standing biathlon had German athlete who's disability was that he had no arms...fair enough that you can still ski without using your arms but biathlon involves shooting? He had a modified gun that he shot with his teeth!
The final events were the downhill & super-G. It was fascinating to watch the athletes with different levels of disability all competing in the same event. It seemed unfair that someone with 2 legs could have less time penalty than someone with only 1 leg...I later found out she didn't have either leg below the knee. The other category that I was most impressed with was the visually impaired, these athletes often had NO sight what so ever and were skiing at ridiculous speeds. The bond between them and their guide must be the highest level of trust I will ever see.
I admit coming to the para-Olympics to see some spectacular crashes but the accidents I did see were not as "fun" as I would have thought watching on TV. Watching a skier strapped in a chair tumbling out of control right in front of me wasn't amusing at all and horrible to watch. The only somewhat amusing accident was the visually impaired skier who when the crowd started cheering couldn't hear the guide telling her to stop and skied straight into the fence at the bottom...she was fine...needless to say we didn't cheer until the blind skiers had come to a complete stop after that!
Vancouver is a beautiful site for a city with the huge Stanley Park, the state and National Parks 20min from city centre (see Lynn Canyon if you get there) and also ski fields 20min from the centre and did an outstanding job of hosting the para-Olympics. One of the best things was that family's and school groups could go to events and afford to also with the ticket price being only $19...the full Olympics had tickets typically x4-x5 that amount. Security was near non-exisitant...after all your not making much of a statement by blowing up a bunch of disabled people and their supporters.
Following the Para-Olympics I headed to Whistler, Jasper & Banff...read about these in the next post...at the rate I am going it will be mid-May before I get it out...I have better things to do than type story tales whilst on holidays!