Having dazzled the world by winning most of the medals at the Beijing Olympics, China is also expected to rake them in at the Paralympic Games, which begin in the Chinese capital on Saturday 6. Sept. 2008. At the 2004 Athens Paralympics, China won 141 gold medals and this time the country’s disabled athletes are expected to top that figure.
Jin Jing, a Chinese Paralympic fencer is one of the Chinese hopefuls for Gold
Shanghai’s centre for disabled sport belongs to the city’s elite sporting campus, where sit volleyball players, wheelchair fencers and able-bodied track-and-field athletes all cross paths.
Yao Fang lost the use of her legs when she was paralysed after a car accident. Six years ago, the local authorities recommended her to a talent scout.
"I had no idea about sport,” she recalls. “Before the accident, I had a job and all of a sudden I had to do sport. I was confused -- how could I do sport? But I was told that I only needed to use my hands -- not my legs. That sounded good and they tested me to see if I could move and react fast.”
A complete life change
“They” discovered that Yao Fang had talent -- for wheelchair fencing. The Beijing Paralympics are her first big sporting event. But what’s more important to her is how sport has changed her life.
“After the car accident, people looked down on me. They thought I would have to spend my whole life in bed, that I wouldn’t find a job, and wouldn’t earn any money. Sport changed me and my whole life as a disabled person. I feel like a healthy woman here. Disabled people who aren’t athletes don’t have such a good life as us.”
According to Yao Fang, the Shanghai authorities give disabled people an allowance of 380 yuan, about 38 euros, a month -- not a great deal of money but more than people got a few years back.
Going for gold
In the run-up to the Games, the wheelchair fencers have been training at least four hours a day. World-cup winner Zhang Lei is 28 years old: “I live in the sports centre. I spend two days at home every two weeks. We don’t have to work. Every month, we get a few hundred yuan.”
Zhang Lei was part of the fencing team that won the gold medal at the Athens Paralympics -- he won the silver on his own. He’s going for gold in Beijing.
Wie Li Hongqi was in the sit volleyball team that won the gold medal in 2004 -- sport has also changed her life: "I used to be a very introverted person. But I’ve become more cheerful thanks to sport. Materially, my life has also improved considerably. Especially after winning the Paralympics. I can support my parents now. A lot is possible.“
The fencer Yao Fang is 36 and also has a family -- a husband and a 14-year-old son. Her husband visits her at the sports centre at the weekends. She misses her family but doesn’t want them to come to the Games.
“They want to watch me at the Beijing Paralympics,” she says. “But I’ve said no. That would disturb the competition and my chances. They’ll see me on TV. If they come to Beijing they will always ask me where I’m living, whether the food is good, whether I’m sleeping well. They will be less worried if I come alone.”
The 13th Paralympics run from 6. to 17. Sept. in Beijing with 20 different sports on the programme.