More medals on the way in Beijing

ALISON KORN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

The Beijing Paralympics are almost halfway over and, just like the Olympics three weeks ago, Canada is off to a bit of a slow start, sitting ninth in the medal count.

But just like the Olympics, no need to panic.

That's the advice from Canadian team assistant chef de mission Dr. Gaetan Tardif, who is at his fourth consecutive Paralympic Games as mission staff.

"We're pretty close to where we thought we were going to be at this point," said Tardif, the vice-president of Patient Care and chief medical officer at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. "We still have all the team sports and a far amount of track. Chantal Petitclerc will probably get a few more medals (in wheelchair racing) and Valerie Grand'Maison, our emerging young star, will probably get more (in swimming)."

After five days of competition, Canada is ranked ninth in the medal standings. The team aims to finish fifth overall. So far, Canada has 19 medals: Seven gold, four silver, eight bronze.

In the pool, Grand'Maison has three gold, and Canadians have collected 12 swimming medals at the Games, with four days of swimming left.

Petitclerc's gold on Wednesday in the 100 metres was her 17th in career Paralympic Games competition. She will look to add to her medal tally during the coming days in the 200, 400, 800, and 1,500 metres. Petitclerc swept those five events at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens by winning gold in every one, but this week acknowledged the field has become much faster.

In the 100 metres, Petitclerc fell behind two Chinese racers at the start and needed an incredible surge to catch them for gold.

"It's really rare that I have to close such a gap," Petitclerc said. "The level of competition has intensified, and we had to fight right to the end."

China's attitude towards disabled people has taken a complete turnaround, said Tardif, who was amazed recently to read articles in the English-language China Daily newspaper advocating for better integration of people with a disability.

"I don't think it would be there unless it was condoned and approved (by the government)," Tardif said. "It means a lot that they are allowing that in the paper. That could be a really important shift."

In fact, one could argue that for China, the Paralympics are even more important for its development than the Olympics were.

"I don't think they needed the Olympics to boom," Tardif said. "Maybe the legacy of the Olympics for China will be the Paralympics, and the integration of 85 million people living with a disability in China."

China now has a national Paralympic training centre on the outskirts of Beijing that is better than anything that any athletes, able-bodied or disabled, have access to in Canada.

"We went to visit it and were just totally flabbergasted that they had that kind of facility," Tardif said.

Canada enjoyed Paralympic success in the past -- placing third overall in 2004 -- chiefly because this country took Paralympic sport seriously before many countries did. But now countries such as Iran, Russia and Ukraine are contenders. China is at the top of the heap, after achieving very little just a few Games ago.

"It's making our life more difficult," Tardif said cheerfully. "The competition is just getting brutal. And that's the way it should be."

Gaetan Tardif's Beijing blog is at www.torontorehab.com.

It's a knockout

Tomorrow is Toronto's chance to see world-class canoe and kayak racing at Marilyn Bell Park. The second annual Mazda CanoeKayak Knockout will feature Canadian Olympic team members, including Beijing silver medallist Adam van Koeverden, as well as Britain's Tim Brabants and Sweden's Anders Gustafsson.

An expanded format this year will include club and junior-level competitions in addition to the premier international single 200-metre knockout races.

Admission is free. The races start at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow and finish at 3:30 p.m. Presenting sponsor Mazda has kicked in over $150,000 toward the event.

CBC plans live television coverage tomorrow from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.


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