The 2016 Rio Paralympics, an international sporting event for athletes with disabilities, began on September 7 and ended just last week. Over the course of eleven days of international competition, differences between Olympics and Paralympics gained attention.
As some of you may have noticed, there hasn’t been much coverage on the Paralympics. For the Olympics, NBC had a livestream of almost all events, and other news channels and websites constantly reported Olympic results. For the Paralympics, NBC also had a livestream of events, but results and records weren’t publicized by any other major news outlets.
Further differences between the Olympics and the Paralympics include their differing reception and recognition of their athletes. It’s clear that Olympic athletes are revered around the world. They’re the best of the best, the creme de la creme. We’re familiar with their names and see their faces on cereal boxes and TV commercials. But most Paralympians don’t get these endorsements or coverage.
Why aren’t disabled athletes treated the same way? To try to fix this disparity, we first have to understand what it means to be a paralympian and how the Paralympics is organized.
Sporting events and eligibility rely on categories that are broken into ten impairments. Eight of these disabilities are physical impairments, with vision and intellectual being the exceptions. A large challenge within the Paralympics is accounting for the range of disabilities each impairment effects.
According to Emory University School of Medicine, the difference between an impairment and disability is that an impairment is “any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological or anatomical structure or function.” A disability, then, is “any restriction or lack of ability to perform an activity.”
There are 23 sports during the summer games and five in the winter games. Some sports have multiple events that vary based on the type of disability an athlete has. This classification system is vital to the organization of the Paralympics. It breaks down athletes based on disability and impairment and provides a system that ensures each athlete is participating fairly and against valid competitors.
Because of the range of disabilities and impairments, there are 528 medal events in the summer games and 72 in the winter games. In the Rio Paralympics that just ended on Sept. 18, China topped more than 170 countries with a total of 235 medals. The U.S. came in fourth place with a total of 115 medals.
Three of the 2,347 total medals won by Paralympians went to the men who medaled in the 1,500 meter race. Algeria’s gold medalist Abdellatif Baka, Ethiopia’s Tamiru Demisse and Kenya’s Henry Kirwa, as well as Algeria’s Fouad Baka, who came in fourth place, all ran under three minutes and 50 seconds. These times would have won them the gold in the Olympics, because in this exact race during the previous month, the United States’ Matthew Centrowitz won gold with a time of 3:50.
Furthermore, 396 Paralympic and 210 world records were broken during the Paralympics. Swimmer Daniel Dias of Brazil became the most decorated Paralympian of all time, with 24 medals. That’s four medals fewer than Michael Phelps. Siahad Rahman of Iran became the first powerlifter to break 300 kg and even lifted up to 310 kg. Omara Durad of Cuba is the world’s fastest female para-athlete, winning all three races she competed in and breaking world records for two of them.
The Paralympics don’t only demonstrate global harmony and acceptance, but they also show that despite having what we may see as setbacks, these athletes have taken a chance to show the world who they are and what they can accomplish. “25 percent of the population of Brazil has some visual deficiency. I hope to inspire those people,” said Antonio Tenà³rio Silva, a judo silver medalist who lost the vision in his left eye during childhood. Paralympians don’t see their physical or visual impairments as something that stops them from succeeding.
During the Paralympics, boundaries are pushed and glass ceilings are broken. If only there were more media coverage on these incredible athletes to demonstrate the importance of the Paralympics.