Sunday, March 21, 2010

Paralympics: Men and Women's Super Combined

On Saturday, March 20th I decided I wanted to see a bit of the Paralympics while I could, so without a ticket I hopped in my car at 6am, and by 10am I had driven all the way to Whistler, parked my car across the main street from the venue, and had purchased a ticket. (Category A tickets were sold out, but general admission seemed pretty available). I didn't really know what the event was, but it turned out that due to the poor weather forecast for Sunday, all Super Combined events would take place on Saturday. This included three categories for each of men and women (visually impaired, sitting, and standing) and both sports (Super-G and Slalom). See all the photos from the super combined.

Alpine skiing competition has four primary events. In all events, the goal is to get down the hill faster than your competitors while not missing any gates. Downhill is the classic, with the fastest speeds and the fewest gates. Slalom is the most technical, and slowest. It has so many gates there's not even room for the gates, so all they do is put up blue and red poles which the competitors must go around. In between these two extremes are two other events: the Giant Slalom and the Super-G. The giant slalom has less gates than slalom, and the super-G has even fewer gates (but both have more gates -- and thus turns -- than the downhill). Super combined simply combines one run of slalom with one run of super-G. The shorted combined time wins.

I'm really glad I went to a Paralympic event, and I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't go to more. These athletes deserve the same -- if not more -- respect as traditional Olympic athletes. There were definitely fewer of them -- for instance, only six women in the visually impaired category. But skiing blind with a guide is something that is very difficult to overcome and takes a tremendous amount of courage to do. I'm very glad that the Paralympics exist in the first place -- it's a wonderful aspect of society as a whole that we recognize these athletes. However, the events are much smaller, and I'm thankful the Paralympics are attached to the Olympics and as such get to use the same venues which would otherwise never be built to the same scale just for the Paralympics.

Among the many differences between the Olympics and Paralympics the first that's noticeable is the logo. Instead of the Olympic rings we have the three Paralympic swooshes. The existing Olympic logos were covered up everywhere from the backs of the volunteer smurf outfits to the giant sheet covering the Olympic rings on the alpine hillside. The Paralympics have much less interest in them from the media -- I wasn't able to find a single broadcast on TV locally. There's also less interest from the public -- I didn't see any scalpers, and traffic restrictions were entirely gone. I drove myself to Whistler and had no problems parking a five minute walk away from the venue. Security entering the venue was also non-existent. Sure, they checked the ticket, but for the Olympics there were careful bag searches and x-ray machines. Nothing of the sort entering the Paralympics. Another difference is the Panasonic name on many of the banners and the finish line posts -- the Olympics were a bit less commercial in that respect. Additionally, I didn't attend an Olympic alpine skiing event, but in the events I did attend at the Olympics, the commentators did not provide running commentary during the competition like that which you expect on TV (ie, the athlete's history and descriptions of the action) while the Paralympic commentators did just that.

Other differences stemmed from simply being at the end of the Games. Excess maps were being put to use as headwear for the volunteers left and right. With daylight savings time, daylight lasted until 7:30pm. The atmosphere was more relaxed as well -- maybe it was less pressure from the world's media or perhaps just the knowledge that everything was drawing to a close. Of course there weren't the big Victory Ceremonies of the Olympics with A-list bands nor were any of the athletes really celebrities. There were fewer athletes as well, and the differences between them were often measured in seconds and not hundredths of seconds. The Paralympics also had more of a focus on disabled spectators -- more accessible seating and ramps were built over the two week gap from the Olympics.

If I had to pick one, I'm not sure if I prefer the Olympics or the Paralympics. Perhaps I'd just rather think of them as one global sporting event where all kinds of athletes come together from all kinds of countries to compete. It's been absolutely wonderful having both of these events so close to my home that I've been able to experience as much as I have over the past month. More than anything, I'd like to thank all of the athletes -- especially those who didn't get a medal -- who put in so much hard work and dedication because in the end, it wouldn't have been possible without you.

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