Paralympic Preview; Pistorius to Compete in Olympics

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The days are ticking down to the August 29 opening ceremony of the 2012 London Paralympic Games, during which more than 4,200 athletes from 165 countries are expected to compete in 20 different sports for what is being billed by organizers as the biggest Games ever staged.

While space does not allow us to highlight all of the Paralympic athletes, The O&P EDGE would like to point out several U.S. athletes who should be exciting to watch.

Athletics

Athletics (track and field) is the largest Paralympic sport. A total of 1,100 athletes (360 females and 740 males) will compete in 170 medal events. The United States has 54 slots-19 females and 35 males.

April Holmes

Photograph courtesy of U.S. Paralympics.

April Holmes

  • Birth year: 1973
  • Home: Somerdale, New Jersey
  • Classification: T44 (Single transtibial amputation or athletes who can walk with moderately reduced function in one or both legs.)
  • Reason to watch: April Holmes, who in 2001 suffered a left transtibial amputation due to a train accident, began her Paralympic track and field career the following year. At the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece, she won a bronze medal in the long jump, and in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China, she won a gold medal in the 100m dash. Holmes is also the world-record holder in her class in the 100m, 200m, and 400m events. At the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field trials, June 29-July 1, at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) campus, she won gold in the women's 200m (T42/43/44) and the women's 100m (T43/44) events.

Blake Leeper

Photograph courtesy of Össur Americas.

Blake Leeper

  • Birth year: 1990
  • Home: Nashville, Tennessee
  • Classification: T43 (Bilateral, transtibial amputation or combined arm/leg amputations.)
  • Reason to watch: In 2008, Blake Leeper, a congenital bilateral transtibial amputee, received a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) to get Össur Cheetah carbon-fiber running feet. The following year, he participated in the Endeavor Games, winning gold in the 100m, 200m, and 400m events, and earned a spot on the 2010 U.S. Paralympic team.

More recently, at the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field trials, Leeper set an American record in the 100m dash with a time of 10.95 seconds, becoming the first U.S. competitor in his classification to finish the run in less than 11 seconds. Leeper also finished first in the 200m dash with a time of 21.70 seconds- also an American best-and first in the 400m dash with a time of 50.68 seconds.

Swimming

Swimming is the second largest Paralympic sport. A total of 600 athletes (260 females and 340 males) will compete in 148 medal events. The United States will send 34 athletes-20 females and 14 males.

Jessica Long

Photograph courtesy of U.S. Paralympics.

Jessica Long

  • Birth year: 1992
  • Home: Baltimore, Maryland
  • Classification: S8/SB7/SM8 (Swimmers with physical disabilities are allocated a category between 1 and 10, with 1 corresponding to the most severe types of disability. S = freestyle, back and butterfly strokes; SB = breaststroke; and SM = individual medley.)
  • Reason to watch: Jessica Long was born in Russia and adopted by American parents when she was 13 months old. She was born with fibular hemimelia and underwent bilateral transtibial amputations when she was 18 months old. She has nine Paralympic medals to her name-three are gold medals won in 2004 when, at the age of 12, she was the youngest athlete on the U.S. Paralympic team. Long holds 20 world records; she recently broke six world records at the 2012 U.S. Paralympics swimming trials in Bismarck, North Dakota, June 14-16.

Rudy Garcia-Tolson

Photograph courtesy of Össur Americas.

Rudy Garcia-Tolson

  • Birth year: 1988
  • Home: Bloomington, California
  • Classification: S8/SB7/SM7
  • Reason to watch: Rudy Garcia- Tolson was born with pterygium syndrome, which caused several congenital abnormalities; he underwent elective bilateral transfemoral amputations when he was five years old. At the age of ten, Garcia-Tolson became the youngest bilateral amputee to complete a triathlon on this own. A member of the U.S. Paralympic team since 2004, he has won three Paralympic medals in swimming: two gold and one bronze. During the 2012 U.S. Paralympics swimming trials, Garcia-Tolson clocked 1:23.81 in the men's SB7 100m breaststroke, besting his September 2008 American record. He was also selected to be on the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field team.

Cycling

Cycling (road and track) is the third largest sport on the Paralympic program. There will be 225 cyclists in London (70 females and 155 males) competing in 50 different medal events-32 road cycling events and 18 track cycling events. The United States will send 17 athletes-8 females and 9 males.

Megan Fisher

Photograph courtesy of Megan Fisher

Megan Fisher

  • Birth year: 1983
  • Home: Missoula, Montana
  • Classification: C4 (Cyclists with upper- or lower-limb impairments and low-level neurological impairment.)
  • Reason to watch: Megan Fisher underwent a transtibial amputation of her left leg in 2002, the result of a car accident. A six-time world champion paratriathlete, she is the only female challenged athlete to complete an XTERRA triathlon. Most recently, she placed first, winning national titles, in the C4 time trial and C4 criterium at the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Road Cycling National Championships, held June 20-24 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Anthony Zahn

Anthony Zahn

Photograph courtesy of Anthony Zahn

  • Birth year: 1975
  • Home: Lincoln, Nebraska
  • Classification: C1 (Cyclists with upper- or lower-limb disabilities and the most severe neurological dysfunction.)
  • Reason to watch: Anthony Zahn was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie Tooth disease when he was in high school. He made his Paralympic debut at the 2008 Games in Beijing, where he won a bronze medal in the individual time trial LC4 (cyclists with a more severe disability usually affecting both lower limbs, with or without upper-limb disability). Most recently, he placed first, winning a national title, in the C1 time trial at the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Road Cycling National Championships.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has announced plans to provide the most comprehensive online coverage ever for a Paralympics, including broadcasting 580 hours of live sport from London 2012 via www.paralympic.org during the Games.


Pistorius to Compete in Olympics

Anthony Zahn

Photograph courtesy of Össur Americas

Oscar "the Blade Runner" Pistorius will be the first-ever athlete with an amputation to compete on the track at the Olympics when he travels to the 2012 London Games to race in the individual 400m event, and in the 4x400m relay with South African team members Willem de Beer, Ofentse Mogawane, and Shaun de Jager. Competition for the men's individual 400m event begins August 4, and the finals will be on August 6. Competition for the men's 4x400m relay begins August 9, and the finals will be on August 10.

The South African 4x400m relay team won silver at the 2011 International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea. During that event, Pistorius was required to run the first leg because the combination of running with prostheses and the difficulty in negotiating baton changeovers might pose a safety concern for the other athletes. Various news sources have reported that for the Olympic Games, Pistorius will not be required to lead off in the 4x400m relay.

Pistorius, a bilateral transtibial amputee, missed the individual 400m qualifying time by two-tenths of a second in the African Championships, held in Porto Novo, Benin, on June 29. Despite this, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee selected Pistorius to race in the Olympics, stating that the decision was based on the merits of his secondplace, silver-medal win in that race and because he had met the qualifying time twice in the past 12 months.

Pistorius will also compete in the 2012 London Paralympic Games, where he will race the 100m, 200m, and 400m T43/44 sprints, as well as the 4x100m relay. The 100m T43/44 race, for which the finals occur on September 6, is one of the most anticipated events of this year's Paralympic Games. New world-record holder Jonnie Peacock of Great Britain, as well as defending world champion Jerome Singleton of the United States, will challenge Pistorius for the gold medal.