October 22: The newspaper photograph showed Japanese swimmer Kei Miyamoto’s body finely arched at the starting point as he prepared to slice into the Olympic pool at the Sydney Aquatic Centre. And then I noticed it. He had no arms.
Kei was practicing for the Paralympic Games, just as wheelchair-bound track athletes and sportspersons bearing the loss of an arm or limb with practiced ease, went through their paces for the 11-day event for the physically challenged that is going on in Sydney at present.
In another newspaper, ‘The Telegraph’, there was a mind-blowing report about the 11-member Cambodian volleyball team, which is taking part in the Paralympics.
When 26-year-old German student, Daniel Kopplow, reached the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh to manage the team bound for Sydney, he was totally unprepared for what he saw.
Almost 10 of the 11 members were victims of landmine explosions, some without a leg or arm. Landmines have shattered Cambodia in over 30 years of civil war, and the majority of the team members were rice farmers whose rice fields are killing fields because of the landmines that are placed underneath.
A taxi driver and a wedding singer and a teacher made up the other members of the team.
They practiced without training shoes, in courts that had no protection from rain and with merely five balls for a “national” team. Living in a poor country they were used to deprivation. Ranked eighth among eight teams they had but one dream: to win just one match.
And when they reached the swank Olympic stadium in Sydney, they had problems making contact with the ball because they found it hard to adjust to courts because “they were not used to lights, walls and a roof in the one enclosed venue,” says the report.
Such are the dreams that make up the individual and collective efforts of 4000 sportspersons from 125 countries in 18 disciplines. The four-day Games, which started on October 18 will get over on October 22.
The opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games was held at the same venue as the Olympic Games gala curtain-raiser a couple of weeks ago, on the evening of Oct 17. The global contingent of sportspersons watched proudly as wheelchair-bound Australian track star Lousie Sauvage lit the Paralympic flame.
Sports is often seen as fit only for the “fit”, which is why millions are content to watch seven or eight “fittest” specimens of humanity slug it out in the race track – with or without hair (to reduce air resistance), with or without efficient body suits and with or without drugs.
But there are some who have grasped the importance of sport for the confidence that it gives them in overcoming great odds and knowing that they can deal with pretty much anything in life. They have given a new meaning to sport if only we would care to admit it. And they have shown that many of the handicaps or challenges that plague our lives are all in the mind.