Sunday, 9 September 2012


So the show's nearly over – this summer SportsFest. Erin Mae's reception was mostly good enough, and we were at home for a part. Some don't like competitive sport and some are just cynical, but we've been blown along with the majority, in the enthusiasm of a festival successfully implemented, and in admiration for the achievements and the athleticism.

There's one bit about the paralymics, however, that puzzles me – some of the event classifications related to the degree of disability. Various sports have divisions for people of different characteristics – distinct competitions for men and women is the obvious one. Boxing and judo have their weights, and even rowing has events for lighter oarsmen / oarswomen. But basketball doesn't have separate competitions for players under 6 feet, or fencing for people with shorter arms. So I'm puzzled that you can have a sporting classification for disabled people that distinguishes between the relative power loss from a muscle wasting condition, for example. Loss of a limb (or the loss of its use) is easy to differentiate from loss of two. But I can't easily get my mind around having separate races for people because their condition means their legs are less powerful than others. In the Olympics, if your legs are not so good at speed but are better at endurance, you might enter the 5000 rather than the 100 metres. Most of us, however hard we tried, would never get there at all. I thoroughly enjoyed all my years of playing hockey, but I doubt whether the most dedicated ambition and training regime would have made me able to compete in the Olympics with others of my general physical characteristics. I don't lose any sleep over not having a competition specifically tuned to my condition.

The athleticism of those we've watched has been truly amazing, and it's great that a country and its sporting organisations offer opportunities for people of all abilities, whatever their origin, to participate appropriately. To enjoy and to celebrate achievement, especially achievement against the odds. So I may eventually be convinced that these Olympic classifications are a good thing, in spite of the difficulty, for the outsider, of understanding all their detail. For the moment, it's good to see sporting accomplishment provide a focus for anyone, and especially for people whom others might consider "least-likely-to". It was only when one of my sons got into athletics for a while that I began to appreciate the significance of a PB – a Personal Best. Taking on the challenge of doing better than ever before is something I hope I don't lose as I get older, even if what it relates to changes.

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