Canada's Paralympians expecting numerous medals | Sports | CBC Sports

ParalympicsCanada's Paralympians expecting numerous medals

Posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 | 08:39 PM

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Canada's Diane Roy, shown winning the 800 in at the world championships last year, is looking to capture Paralympic gold after being denied in Beijing. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press) Canada's Diane Roy, shown winning the 800 in at the world championships last year, is looking to capture Paralympic gold after being denied in Beijing. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press)

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Top eight is the mantra that we are hearing from Canadian team officials for the Paralympics after a seventh place finish in Beijing four years ago. The funding levels are at the highest ever, but many countries are doing the same thing - recruiting more athletes and then spending more on development to achieve better results with those athletes.

A few thoughts as the Paralympic Games kick off in London.

Top eight is the mantra that we are hearing from Canadian team officials after a seventh place finish in Beijing four years ago. The funding levels are at the highest ever, but many countries are doing the same thing - recruiting more athletes and then spending more on development to achieve better results with those athletes.

A few weeks ago during the Olympics, Canadians shed a tear for the men's relay team that seemed to win bronze only to have it taken away minutes later.

Wheelchair racer Diane Roy knows how they feel.

She pulled off an impressive gold medal in the 5000-metre race in Beijing and was awarded the medal only to have it taken away the next day because of an appeal from a crash. The race was re-run and although she landed on the podium it was for silver not gold - a bitter pill to swallow. 

She is in her 40's now (which is not old in chair racing), and has five Paralympic medals but not the elusive gold. It could happen here and I can't imagine there being any greater feeling of athletic redemption.

In the pool, medals could come from several different places including the wily veteran Benoit Huot. The 28-year-old from Montreal has 16 Paralympic medals to his credit and seems to always be motivated. His motivation over the last few years has been fuelled by the fact that he collected four medals in Beijing but they were all bronze.

After winning a total of eight gold medals in Sydney and Athens he seems intent to get back there in London. He broke his own world record earlier this year (200 I.M.) and might need to be better than that to win gold in the Paralympic pool.

In Beijing, Valerie Grand'Maison was a 19-year-old from Montreal who took the pool by storm with three gold medals and now at age 23 she'll be one to watch. I also remember well her 100-metre butterfly final, in which she shared the podium with her teammates Kirby Cote (silver) and Chelsey Gotell (bronze) to give Canada the rarest of feats - a full medal sweep.

One of the advantages of Kelowna's Garrett Hickling being named flag bearer for Team Canada is that it draws attention to wheelchair rugby. There are plenty of Canadians who have never heard the words wheelchair and rugby in the same sentence unless it was being afraid that you would end up in the former if you played the latter.

It's a sport primarily for athletes who are quadriplegic and, yes, it is full contact. Hickling and his squad represent one of several teams - the men's and wheelchair basketball squads are the others - who are definite medal hopefuls for Canada.

From an international perspective, Oscar Pistorius's name is on the tip of everyone's tongue, but he's facing an odd predicament. I would compare it to the great American athlete Michael Johnson,  who was not a great 100-metre sprinter but was virtually unbeatable over 200 and 400. He achieved impressive status but it was still not quite what a 100-metre champion would achieve.

Pistorius is as close to a sure bet as there is for the 200/400 double but not so much for the 100 metre sprint, which is by far the marquee event for amputees in track.

He will be in tough against Americans Jerome Singleton and Blake Leeper, as well as a 19-year-old Briton named Jonnie Peacock who ran a blistering 10.85 seconds earlier this year and is the new world record holder. Peacock is coached by Dan Pfaff, who guided Donovan Bailey to his world record back in the 1990s.

Pistorius will most likely be trailing at the 60-metre point but the question is what happens after that?  Will he have enough top-end speed to come back for gold like he did in Beijing? As well, has Oscar spread himself too thin? He has done myriad media interviews and even more importantly, he planned his training schedule to peak twice in a short time. That is always tough.

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