Paralympians feel fear mixed with hope | Sports | CBC Sports

ParalympicsParalympians feel fear mixed with hope

Posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 | 08:38 PM

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Chantal Petitclerc of Canada celebrates after winning the final of the women's 1500m T54 final during the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.  Petitclerc is once again at the Paralympics, but this time she is a coach, working with athletes from Britain. (Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images)  Chantal Petitclerc of Canada celebrates after winning the final of the women's 1500m T54 final during the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. Petitclerc is once again at the Paralympics, but this time she is a coach, working with athletes from Britain. (Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images)

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There are definitely lots of medal possibilities for Canada heading into these Paralympic Games but I sense a little fear mixed in with the team's high hopes.
There are definitely lots of medal possibilities for Canada heading into these Paralympic Games but I sense a little fear mixed in with the team's high hopes.

Canada has been a trailblazer in Paralympic sport, make no mistake about it. Athletes wearing the maple leaf have won a stunning array of medals over the last several decades, including 50 in Beijing in 2008 with 19 of those being gold medals.

But, the Canadian Chef de Mission, Gaeten Tardif, reminded the media at Tuesday's news conference that other countries have made considerable strides in the quality of their Paralympic teams and medals will be harder to come by in 2012 than ever before.

Nevertheless, several Beijing medal winners will not win medals in London simply because they are not here - at least not on the Canadian team.  On that list is arguably Canada's greatest Paralympian ever, Chantal Petitclerc who was responsible for five gold medals alone at the last Paralympic Games (sweeping every event from 100-1500m) which matched the five golds she won in Athens four years before that. In all, Chantal owns an incredible 14 Paralympic gold medals and 21 medals total.

Coaching for Britain
So, where is Canada's 2008 Lou Marsh award winner? Well, she's retired (more or less) but she's here in London and is in fact a member of a Paralympic delegation but not Canada's. She has signed on as a coach with the British Paralympic team and is helping athletes like Shelley Woods chase after hardware.  

There is a little more to the story as Petitclerc's longtime coach, Peter Eriksson (a Canadian of Swedish heritage) was hired as head coach of the UK Paralympic team. Eriksson has also brought in Athens medal winner Kelly Smith to do some work with the British racers.  Kingston, Ontario's Stefanie Reid, who took home a bronze medal for Canada from China four years ago, now represents Great Britain in sprinting and long jump for amputee athletes. Ironically, her husband Brent Lakatos will race his wheelchair under the Canadian flag.

This is not to say that Britain has stolen all of Canada's athletes, but you do get the sense that "money talks" and when an athlete is trying to take advantage of a small window of opportunity, whether that is as a coach or competitor, it is difficult to say "no" to a better situation. But it does not create a better situation for Canada's programs.

Women's basketball
On the other hand, there seems to be something good brewing with Canada's women's wheelchair basketball team. The squad was fifth in Beijing four years ago, but made the finals of a tournament in the Netherlands last week and seems poised to challenge for a medal against the likes of U.S.A, Germany and Australia. The team leaders include Quebec City's Cindy Ouellette,  Calgary's Kendra Ohama, and Vancouver's Janet McLachlan who her teammate Tracy Ferguson recently described as having, "some of the best hands of a big man that you'll ever see." Ferguson should know, she's a six-time Paralympian herself with three gold medals to show for her efforts.

But, if Canada is to see success in Wheelchair Basketball in London, Ferguson says it will be because of the way that the team prepared heading into the Games. With funding from Sport Canada, the women's team was brought together for three and a half months in Winnipeg and, by all accounts, the chemistry has never been better.  

Wheelchair Basketball Canada found the money and that might just pave the way for a Canadian Paralympic team to do what the Canadian women's soccer team did here a few weeks ago, earn a spot on the medal podium. Canada's first test is against the Netherlands on Friday while the men's team starts its quest to turn Beijing silver into London gold on Thursday.

Let the Games begin. Opening Ceremony is tonight.

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