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Paralympics can be called ‘Oscars’

Oscar Pistorius who participated LondOlympics will take part Paralympics. | AP

Oscar Pistorius, who participated in the London Olympics, will take part in the Paralympics. | AP

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Updated: September 18, 2012 6:24AM

There are three reasons the 2012 Paralympics, which begin Aug. 29 in the same London location where the
Olympics just finished, are on their way — astonishingly — to selling out for the first time:

† Britain has gone mad with Olympic good cheer, fueled by the 65 medals it won in the just-completed Games. The usually mopey citizenry is giddy with national pride, and those who couldn’t get tickets to the Olympics are excited about watching these contests for the physically impaired.

† There’s more acceptance of the disabled or different these days, and more people are impressed with the effort and excellence of disabled athletes. There’s a twisted irony here in that the more wars we have, the more disabled young men and women we create.

This year, there are more than 4,000 athletes from 140 nations competing, with a lot of the entrants being wounded former soldiers. Afghanistan, Iraq and their roadside bombs have left their mark. Not surprisingly, the Paralympics were created 64 years ago by neurologist Ludwig ‘‘Poppa’’ Guttmann so the injured British fliers he treated could compete in sports and show themselves and the world they were not human refuse.

Olympic organizer Sebastian Coe threw a log on the excitement fire when he said spectators would be amazed at what they saw and that ‘‘this is going to be an extraordinary moment.’’

† And here’s the big one: Oscar Pistorius. Known as ‘‘The Blade Runner,’’ the South African 400-meter man got more attention for his quality performances in the regular Olympics, running alongside the best two-legged sprinters on the planet, than possibly anyone but Usain Bolt.

Pistorius will be competing in the Paralympics, too, and a technology-obsessed public will get to see again how his carbon-steel blades work. And everybody else’s blades, too.

It’s worth noting that the word ‘‘Paralympics’’ didn’t evolve from the word ‘‘paralysis.’’ The prefix ‘‘para’’ comes from Greek and means ‘‘beside’’ or ‘‘alongside.’’ Thus, alongside the regular Olympics. Parallel, not paralyzed.

And that’s the feeling shared by more and more ‘‘normal’’ human beings: Aren’t we all a little handicapped in some way and maybe a lot closer in makeup to, say, Matt Stutzman than Matt Grevers?

Who is Stutzman, you say? He’s ‘‘The Armless Archer’’ from Fairfield, Iowa, who will be competing in the Paralympics. With a specially designed bow and using only his feet, knee and chin, Stutzman is an incredibly strong and accurate shooter. He recently broke the able-bodied world record for longest arrow shot into a target by nailing one from 230 yards away. Think two football fields and three end zones.

At the Olympics, the global media went nuts over ‘‘blind’’ South Korean archer Im Dong-hyun, who shot the lights out at the archery range, so to speak. Trouble was, the dude was about as blind as you or I.

‘‘Many of the articles have been exaggerated,’’ Im said. ‘‘When you have the kind of eyesight where you are shortsighted or have astigmatism, then it is very difficult to see. But I’m longsighted. So, actually, I have no problem during training or driving.’’

Ah, never let facts get in the way of a good tale!

But the Paralympic competitors? Every one of them has a story of comeback or epic determination.

Before the Sydney Paralympics in 2000, I was down on the track at Stadium Australia and struck up a conversation with an attractive young female athlete working on her starts. She was missing both legs below the knee, and she had on blades that were much like Pistorius’. I asked her what had happened, and she said she had to have her legs amputated after a bout of meningitis.

I was amazed. Meningitis? An infection of the brain and spinal-cord membranes?

She explained how and why, and when we were finished talking, I remember thinking that it sounded like a regular jock’s tale: I’ve gotta work and come back from this damned injury!

And so it is that some disabled athletes already are better than ‘‘abled’’ athletes at certain events. Think wheelchair marathon, for example. Think, well, Pistorius. Think the new bionic leg prosthesis Genium, from designer Otto Bock, a lower-limb replacement that ‘‘thinks’’ what its owner is going to do.

There are special Paralympic events, such as goalball for the visually impaired and Boccia for the significantly physically impaired.

But the thing that gets us all, that sells these Games big-time, is this: Someday, human and machine will be hard to tell apart. But the spirit is ours alone.

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