Last time we checked in on Brampton's Jeff Adams, he had crashed during the men's 1,500-metre wheelchair race at the Athens Olympics, where it was categorized as a demonstration sport. That mishap put him in a huge financial hole for the Paralympics, which get going today in Athens, and run until Sept. 28. Adams' 1,500-metre competition begins on Sunday with the heats.
"I broke everything but the frame," said the 12-time medal winner. "It was the worst crash I ever had where I didn't get hurt."
Fortunately, the sponsorship department of the Hudson's Bay Company stepped forward and donated a new chair. "(If that hadn't happened) I would have really been under water," he told The Toronto Sun yesterday. From a financial perspective, Adams is actually one of the more fortunate Paralympians, since he has sponsorship from companies such as Bell and Pfizer. Others aren't quite as fortunate.
"Almost all Paralympians have very expensive equipment, whether it's a racing prosthetic, or a racing chair, whatever you need," said David Willsie, a London native who competes on Canada's wheelchair rugby team. "You have to slap that on top of everything else an able-bodied athlete has to deal with."
Willsie's wheelchair runs him $4,000. The wheels, often replaced because of the abuse they take, total another $3,500 a year. Then there's the cost of travel to practises and tournaments.
"It's not like when Perdita (Felicien) falls over a hurdle and maybe pops a cleat or a spike out of a shoe," said Phyllis Ellis of the See You In Turino Fund, a charitable organization that has handed $2 million directly to Olympians and Paralympians over the past 16 months. "We don't support our athletes in Canada, that's a fact, but when you're talking about Paralympians, we're talking about a completely different set of needs."
Nonetheless, the opening ceremony happens today. CBC's coverage, tape-delayed, begins tomorrow, the start of 21 hours of coverage. Organizers refer to the Paralympics as second only to the Olympic Games in terms of magnitude. Approximately 4,000 athletes from 143 countries are in Greece taking part in 19 Paralympic sports. Canada, with 143 athletes in Athens, finished third in the medal count in the 2000 event in Sydney, with 96 medals. But 162 Canadian athletes competed in 2000. Organizers are predicting between 70 to 80 medals at this event.
Canadian sprinter Earle Connor was suspended yesterday from the Canadian Paralympic team pending the final review of a positive drug test. Connor is considered one of the world's top disabled athletes, and an obvious medal favourite in Athens, but tested positive for trace amounts of testosterone and nandrolone in an out-of-competition test Aug. 23. In a statement, Connor said that while he acknowledged the positive test, he said that it was related more to current and past health issues, including treatment for cancer, where one of the side effects is erratic fluctuation of testosterone levels in the body.