Paralympics 2008

The 2008 Beijing Paralympics opened Saturday night Beijing time, early Sunday morning New Zealand time. These Games will last 11 days, until September 17th. There are more than 4,000 athletes involved in 20 different sports.

Paralympic athletes have some kind of disability. Some are blind or partially blind, some are deaf, others are in wheelchairs because they have lost a leg and some have cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a brain injury which affects muscle control.

The opening ceremony last night was another amazing event. This time many of the performers were people with disabilities: a blind pianist, some blind children dancing, dances for deaf people to enjoy, and a 12-year old ballet dancer who lost a leg in the Sichuan earthquake. She danced from her wheelchair. The torch was carried into the stadium by a young woman who was partially blind. She had the first Chinese guide dog, Lucky, with her. She passed the torch to Hou Bin, a one-legged high jumper, who pulled himself up by a rope to the roof of the Bird’s Nest to light the flame. Hou Bin is famous for jumping 1.95m on one leg in Athens in 2004. The opening ceremony finished with fireworks.

Another famous athlete is Oscar Pistorius from South Africa. He has lost both lower legs and runs on legs or J-shaped ‘blades’ made of carbon fibre. He is so fast he is called the ‘blade runner’. He plans to run in the 100m, 200m and 400m races.

One aim of the Paralympics is to improve conditions and enjoyment of life for people with disabilities. In our country, Sport and Recreation New Zealand provides money for training for these athletes. We have sent 30 athletes to Beijing for these Games. In China, there is a Disability Sports Training Centre in Beijing with a gym, swimming pool, cycling track, two football fields and an archery facility. China has also improved facilities for other people with disabilities by providing wheelchair taxis and access for wheelchairs to the Great Wall. The Paralympics is an opportunity to show that people who have disabilities can also lead a full and active life.

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