There is no easy way to quantify it, no metric by which to gauge the depth of athletes’ feelings for this event – the sun that everyone revolves around.
If the Olympics present for many a quadrennial reintroduction to the sports that exist in peripheral vision, then the Paralympics are an amplified version of the same, a conundrum which for the casual sports fan can often take some time to complete. resolution.
There is the wide and confusing mix of classifications; the strange derivative versions of the sports we know better; in places there is great strength, skill and superlative speed, the kind we instinctively associate with sporting greatness. Then there are also the disabilities – some mild, some severe – which challenge us to enjoy this spectacle from a different perspective, to do our best to walk a mile in the athletes’ shoes, and to feel like we are. how special a performance was, given the limitations structure that underpinned it.
To make a bigger impact in the eyes of its audience, every sporting event needs to ask itself a simple question: why should they care?
When it comes to the Paralympic Games and advancing the appreciation of disabled sport, this is sometimes a difficult question to answer. One of the main gripes in parasport is that success is not recognized in the same way as other competitions. While this is undeniably true, it is also a shaky argument.
While comparisons may be inevitable, given the similarities in formats, group the Olympic and Paralympic Games in such a way that harms the latter.
There may be 1.2 billion people in the world living with a disability, but the relative lack of numbers filtering into parasport means medals cannot simply be given the same weight, even though Sport Ireland’s patent system suggests that they can.
Ireland have won 222 Paralympic medals since the event was first held in 1960, and during that time the Olympic team brought home 26 medals.
Paralympic athletes work just as hard and train just as professionally as Olympians, but the biggest overall depth Olympic athletes must rise to reach the top step of the podium is the main reason why their medals create a more seismic impact.
This is not to say that Paralympic medals are easy, but the desire in such circles to see them recognized with the same appreciation undermines the different but much more legitimate argument that disabled sport should have much more time. ‘antenna.
But why should the public care?
The best place to start is to see how much athletes care about them and how much those around them care.
The sport is at its best and most captivating when it serves a blast of Russian roulette from elation or agony – kind to some but downright sadistic in its cruelty to others.
We can deny it anything we want to, but part of the appeal as viewers is that it makes us all Bart Simpsons, voyeuristically turning off the TV to locate the moment when the ‘heart rips in two’ by Ralph Wiggum.
Whether it is tears of joy, tears of pain, the depth of emotion it evokes at its highest level makes it difficult to look away.
We saw a lot of them at the Olympics earlier this month. We saw a lot more at the Paralympics earlier this week, and we’ll see a lot more over the next eight days. Most of those who log in may not be familiar with their T13 from their SB8 class, their goalball from their boccia, but the real power of the Paralympics – like the Olympics – is discovering something you didn’t know. loving, attracted and cared for by a story that got you connected.
And there are so many stories in Tokyo that are going to connect us. Talk to the Paralympians and most will downplay their abilities, as well as the difficulties they have overcome to reach this stage.
This is the case with many individual athletes, generally more introverted than those who practice their profession on the field. It is usually only those around them who can best illustrate the extent of their success.
Take Barry McClements, the 19-year-old from Comber, County Down, who suffered an amputation of his right leg above the knee as a 10-month-old baby.
Throughout his teenage years, his alarm clock would go off at 4 a.m. and he was out at 5 a.m., making the trip to Newtownards for the first of two pool sessions each day.
His driver was his father, also Barry, who must have seen his son narrowly miss qualification for the Rio Games, but who will now watch their family dream come true in Tokyo from afar.
âWhat he has achieved in such a short time is inspiring,â says McClements Snr. âEvery one of them, even those who didn’t get the qualifying time, deserve a standing ovation. They are young guys who give so much for their dreams. Their friends go out and have fun and they have to go to bed at eight o’clock. I couldn’t have done it.
That last line is the key: he couldn’t have done it. Most of us, who have the same talent and the same opportunity, couldn’t have done it either.
For some, it may come down to a lack of interest; for others, a lack of will to undertake the years of work necessary to get to Tokyo.
McClements is unlikely to win a medal in any of the four events he swims in at the Games, with the focus at this point in his career being to advance to the finals. And that’s OK. Not everyone can be a Jason Smyth or an Ellen Keane.
Look elsewhere around the Irish team and the feeling you will find among their loved ones is the same: great admiration.
Take Greta Streimikyte, the 1,500m runner who finished fourth at the Rio Games and will try to do better in the T13 (visually impaired) final at 11:10 am Irish time this morning.
âShe is engaged,â says her brother Arnas. âIf she falls, gets hurt, she always gets up. It’s just who she is. Whether it’s college or sports, she always puts in 110 percent no matter what she does.
He’ll be watching this morning with the rest of the family in Bettystown, all knowing the countless 80-mile weeks and mountains of ancillary work Streimikyte has done to be there, that day, as good as she can be.
Whatever the outcome, there is a great deal of meaning to it – a pursuit whose value goes far beyond medals.