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21 Mar, 2010 05:52

Prospects for Sochi 2014 boosted by Paralympians’ massive medal haul

Just one day before the end of the Winter Paralympics in Vancouver, Team Russia is once again topping the medals table.

The Russian athletes have secured thirty medals altogether, eleven of which are gold. Their success is not only the number of medals, but also in changing the attitudes towards people with disabilities.

Multi-Paralympic champion Irek Zaripov lost both of his legs in a car accident 10 years ago. After years of rehabilitation he decided to dedicate his life to sport.

Fast forward to now and he has become a national hero, winning nearly half of all the Russian team’s gold medals in the biathlon and cross country skiing.

The 26-year-old has everything he needs to continue with his career and perhaps do just as well in the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

Irek Zaripov says there is a difference between Olympians and Paralympians: “When I joined the team in 2005 we did not have enough financial support like they did – our conditions were much more limited. In 2006, President Putin put us on equal terms in almost all areas and we started to get financial support and training facilities – so we do not have such problems any more.”

The Paralympic movement has come a long way in the last forty years and has expanded far beyond sporting events.

In the 21st century people with disabilities can also compete internationally in events like dancing and other non-Paralympic events.

Such freedom of movement is an inspiration to many who still feel disadvantaged, yet the concept of unlimited mobility is more real today than it ever was.

“It is a sport, it is a competition, it is self-manifestation of individuals and teams and it is of course a humanitarian venture, a humanitarian initiative, which is to raise attention of real possibilities to so-called disabled persons,” Vladimir Lukin, Russian Paralympic Committee president, told RT.

Despite overwhelming success at the 2006 and 2010 Paralympic Games, Russia’s real test will come in four years in Sochi.

At the moment it is essential to learn the lessons of other host nations to make Sochi 2014 a truly unforgettable experience, as well as change the attitudes towards people with disabilities for good.

“No negative energy, no waste of energy, everything we had was great teamwork [between the International Paralympic Committee and Sochi Organizing Committee for the Paralympic Winter Games],” says Sir Philip Craven, International Paralympic Committee President, adding, “And through this teamwork we have seen the effect of great teamwork in Vancouver, in Whistler, and I am confident it will happen with Sochi.”