Fueled by a London 2012 Olympic Games that produced marvelous performances and, fans apparently have been eager to see what’s next in as the Paralympic Games are set to begin Aug. 29.
A few athletes, matchups and dates have become must-see items of the competition that will be the most attended Paralympics in history. The record of 1.8 million tickets sold for a Paralympic Games in Beijing four years ago already has been surpassed, with 2.5 million tickets sold for London 2012.
“To have sold the most tickets ever for a Paralympic Games three weeks before the Opening Ceremony shows the insatiable appetite the public has for top-class elite sport,” Sir Phillip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, said in London recently. “So far London has delivered a quite spectacular Olympic Games, which has further whetted the appetite of the public ahead of the Paralympics.”
Athletes at these Games — including 227 Americans (133 men, 94 women) — will be performing in front of record crowds in one of the most anticipated Paralympic Games to date.
American athletes will compete in 19 sports contested throughout the 11 days of competition: archery, boccia, cycling, equestrian, goalball, judo, powerlifting, rowing, sailing, shooting, sitting volleyball, soccer seven-a-side, swimming, table tennis, track and field, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair fencing and wheelchair tennis. At the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, Team USA claimed a total of 99 medals, finishing third overall.
Charlie Huebner, Chief of Paralympics for the United States Olympic Committee, said there are a number of events he can’t wait to see.
“Wheelchair track and field is going to be spectacular and incredibly competitive,” he said. “We’re hoping our men in wheelchair basketball return to the podium. We’re expecting incredible competition there. And then the (men’s) amputee 100-meter (race) with the world-record holder from Great Britain (Jonnie Peacock) and Oscar Pistorius, who just ran in the Olympics, and three Americans including the current world champion (Jerome Singleton), it’s just going to be a race to remember.”
The Games also feature something else: a return to the roots of the Paralympic Games, which were born in the United Kingdom after World War II. Dr. Ludwig Guttmann created the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948 (the same year London played host to the Olympic Games) as a sports competition for British veterans. Hence, the name of the Paralympic mascot: Mandeville.
“I think that brings some special flavor and meaningfulness to these Games,” Huebner said.
With just days before competition, TeamUSA.org offers a look at 12 of the most anticipated events and athletes to watch at these Paralympic Games, which run from Aug. 29-Sept. 9:
1. Men’s 100-meter track final : This ranks as the most-anticipated matchup of the Games, as South Africa’s Pistorius — a double amputee with a T44 classification who recently became the first amputee to run in the Olympic Games (in London) — will be out to defend his gold medal in this event from Beijing, where he also won the 200- and 400-meter races. The field in the T44 100-meters is deep and fast and includes Americans Singleton and Blake Leeper and Great Britain’s Peacock. Leeper, the IPC’s Athlete of the Month for July, recently tied Pistorius’ 100m world record (in the T43 class) of 10.91 seconds. Meanwhile, Singleton — a silver medalist in the event at Beijing — refers to himself as the “fastest amputee in the world” and defeated Pistorius in a photo finish at the World Championships in New Zealand in 2011. Singleton will run the 100, 200 and 4x100-meter relay in London. Singleton, a single amputee, said he’s looking forward to the showdown with Pistorius in London. With the focus on the Americans and Pistorius, however, Peacock shouldn’t be overlooked. He ran a 10.85 this summer, beating by 0.06 of a second the previous T44 world record.
2. Men’s 100-meter freestyle swim: American Brad Snyder, 28, a Navy lieutenant and bomb defuser who lost his eyesight a year ago in an explosion in Afghanistan, is one of the favorites in the race after swimming 57.75 seconds this year, the current best time in the world for blind athletes at this distance. Snyder also will compete in the 400 meters. Since his injury a year ago, Snyder — who swam at the Naval Academy — has been active in both track and swimming. Read more here.
3. Men’s mixed quad singles, wheelchair tennis: This could come down to a duel between a pair of longtime rivals: American David Wagner, who earned a bronze at Beijing and gold at Athens in this event, and Great Britain’s Peter Norfolk, who took the silver at Athens and gold in Beijing. Norfolk, 51, is nicknamed The Quadfather for his long, successful career. Both Wagner, 38, and Norfolk have been ranked No. 1 in the world.
4. Jessica Long, swimming: Long, it could be argued, is potentially the biggest star of all U.S. Paralympians in London and “the best swimmer you’ve never heard of,” according to one Washington Post columnist. The 20-year-old American won six medals — four gold, a bronze and a silver — in Beijing and will compete in her third Paralympic Games, having been a part of the U.S. team in Athens at age 12, when she won three golds. Long is entered in nine events, including two relays, in London. Long won the ESPY this year as Best Female Athlete With a Disability (both of her legs were amputated below the knee when she was 18 months old). She also set five world records this year at the Paralympic Swimming Trials. She’s could swim in nine events in London. “I jump in the pool, and I think I’m a mermaid,” she told TeamUSA.org earlier this year. Read more here.
5. Tatyana McFadden and Jessica Galli, wheelchair racing: These Americans could be among the busiest athletes at the Games, competing in multiple events. McFadden qualified for the 100, 400, 800 and 1,500 meters in London, as well as the marathon. She will be the first Paralympian to compete in those five events at one Games. In Beijing, McFadden, 23, earned silvers in the 200, 400 and 800 (all T54) and a bronze in the 4x100 relay (T53-54). She also won a silver and bronze in Athens. The most focus will be on McFadden in two events, the 100 and marathon. In the 100, she will compete against her younger sister, Hannah. McFadden has won the Chicago Marathon twice and the New York Marathon once in the wheelchair division. At the 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships, Christchurch, New Zealand, McFadden won four gold medals and a bronze. Galli, 28, competing in her fourth Paralympic Games and racing in the T53 class, won five medals in Beijing (including a gold in the 400), and won both the 100 and 200 meters at the Paralympic Trials this year setting a world record of 28.93 in the 200. She also was second in the 400 and 800.
6. U.S. women’s goalball team: Four members of the six-member team that defeated China in the gold-medal game in Beijing are back to try to repeat, but should be tested again by the likes of China, Canada and Japan. Veteran captain Jen Armbruster, Aysa Miller, Lisa Czechowski and Robin Theryoung all decided to give it another go. The U.S. team finished third this year at a London test event, won gold at the ParaPan Games in Mexico last year and took a silver in 2010 at the World Goalball Championships. Read more here.
7. Catherine “Cat” Bouwkamp, women’s fencing: She’s only 16, but she’s the top-ranked woman in the United States in wheelchair fencing in foil, epee and saber. Though she took up the sport just three years ago, she’s rapidly climbed the sport’s rankings. Last year, she won a gold medal in foil at the Pan American Wheelchair Championships in Brazil. She will compete in the women’s individual foil – category A in London.
8. Josh Olson, shooting: Olson, 32, will be the first active-duty U.S. solider to compete in the Paralympic Games. The Army sergeant, who lost his right leg in Iraq in 2003, is based at Fort Benning, Ga., in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit where he trains and is also an instructor. He will compete in the air rifle competition in London. “My story didn’t end with my injury,” he said. “It’s like what I tell other soldiers, ‘There’s a whole new chapter. You just have to write it.’ ” Read more here.
9. Women’s sitting volleyball: How’s this for a matchup? The U.S. women, who are ranked second in the world and earned the silver medal at the 2008 Paralympic Games, will be paired against China — the top-ranked team in the world and defending gold medalists — in the Americans’ first game on Aug. 31. It will be a big test and hurdle for Team USA, which took bronze in Athens, silver in Beijing and hopes to win its first Paralympic gold in London. Eight athletes from the 2008 team are back for the U.S., with four of them out to win their third medal: Allison Aldrich, Brenda Maymon-Jensen, team captain Kendra Lancaster and Lora Webster. Read more here.
10. Myles Porter, men’s judo: The 26-year-old, who won gold at the Parapan American Games in 2011, will compete in the 100 kg division in London as he goes for his first Paralympic medal. In 2008, he finished fifth in Beijing. The former wrestler and football player at the University of Toledo, who is legally blind, began competing in judo in 2006, but has improved rapidly and has also fared well against sighted athletes. At the Closing Ceremony for the Parapan American Games in Mexico, he was named the U.S. flag bearer. Read more here.
11. Men’s discus: This could come down to American Jeremy Campbell vs. Daniel Greaves of Great Britain. Campbell became the first Paralympic athlete to throw more than 200 feet when he went 203-10 at the World Cup event in Manchester, England, this summer. He bested that mark later in the summer and still holds the world record heading into London. At Beijing in 2008, Campbell took the gold medal; then he took silver at the World Championships in New Zealand. Greaves earned the silver in 2000, the gold in Athens in 2004 and bronze in Beijing four years ago. Read more here.
12. Greta Neimanas, women’s para-cycling: Four years ago, Neimanas — born without a left arm below the elbow — was shut out of the medals race in Beijing, her first Paralympic Games. But she won the United States’ team’s only gold — plus two silvers — at the 2012 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Los Angeles and is Team USA’s top hope for a medal in London. She will compete in both track and road racing in London.
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Doug Williams is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.