August 29, 2012
Connor leads Calgary's Paralympic contingent
By SCOTT MITCHELL, QMI Agency
CALGARY - It’s a unique case of the inspiring being inspired.
Usually, Earle Connor — a two-time Paralympic gold medallist in the 100-metre dash — is the one inspiring others.
Watching Oscar Pistorius mesmerize the world during the recent London Olympics as the first amputee to run with able-bodied sprinters in the 400 metres, Connor couldn’t help but be moved.
“I was over-the-moon inspired,” Connor said of the 25-year-old South African nicknamed ‘Blade Runner’ because of his double-amputee status and blade-like prosthetic legs. “What he’s done as an individual human being for disabled sport on the planet, not in the country, not in the continent, but on the planet, I don’t think that attention could ever be bought. He’s showing people he can do something and set a goal for himself and he’s got no feet. That’s pretty cool.”
Connor will get a first-hand look when the London Paralympic Games kick off, as Pistorius — the 2008 Beijing Paralympic gold medallist in the T43/44 100 metres, 200m and 400m — hopes to defend his triple-gold performance.
But while Connor was tuned in to watch Pistorius run a couple weeks ago, the 36-year-old Airdrie resident, who grew up just outside Saskatoon before moving to Calgary in 1999, will be focused on repeating his T42 100m gold from Beijing.
After his win in Beijing, where he set a new Paralympic record in 12.32 seconds, he wasn’t sure he’d be back.
“That was the big question,” said Connor, who will arrive in London Friday in preparation for his Sept. 7 race. “At the conclusion of Beijing, we kind of sat back and decided not to make the mistake that many athletes make, and that is, I wanted to make sure that next phase of life is set up — I didn’t want to be lost.”
So, Connor opened his own weight-loss and nutritional consulting clinic in Cochrane in 2010 and took some time off. Three years, to be exact.
Then the itch returned.
He sat down with his coach, Les Gramantik, who also coaches Calgary heptathlete Jessica Zelinka, among others, and mapped out a plan.
“We looked at what my competitors from the past had been running, and no one had really vaulted themselves into that spot, running the 100 metres in 12.2, 12.3 or even 12.4 seconds,” said Connor, who lost his left leg from the knee down when he was three months old after being born without a fibula. “He called me the next day and said, ‘When do you want to put the sprint leg back on?’”
Armed with a program built by Gramantik for an able-bodied athlete, Connor was back at work with his “bionic leg” strapped on.
Even after an extended layoff, it didn’t take long for Connor — a Lethbridge Hurricanes draft pick back in the ’90s — to round into form, eventually regaining his No. 1 world ranking with a 12.45 dash earlier this year.
There’s only one thing on his mind heading into his third Paralympic Games.
“To be quite honest, I wouldn’t have done this — I wouldn’t have put myself through this torture — if it wasn’t to win,” said Connor, who also won gold in 2000 and holds world records in the 60m (7.87s) and 100m (12.14s). “Never losing a race in 16 years, regardless if I had a three-year layoff or not, I wouldn’t want this race to be a race I lose.
“If I can win after having three years off, where I really didn’t put that sprint leg on once except to film a commercial with the mayor, I think that says a lot to my athleticism, to my legacy and to the athlete that I am, disabled or able-bodied.”
Sandwiched in between Connor’s gold medals was the extreme disappointment of a positive drug test in 2004 — attributed to medication after having one of his testes removed in 2001 following a cancer scare — which kept him out of the Athens Paralympics and prevented him from defending his first gold medal.
That disappointment has motivated him this year.
“I had an opportunity to win a second gold medal in a row there and because of my own undoing and not getting my medication approved, I threw away that chance,” Conner said. “This is my opportunity to defend that title.”
But it’s not a swan song, either. He’s already eyeing Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“Brazil is a beautiful place and I’ve heard they’ve got nice beaches,” Conner said with a laugh. “No one has ever three-peated, so why not give that a go?”
NINE FROM CALGARY HEAD TO LONDON
Nine Calgary-area athletes will be on the medal hunt when the Paralympic Games shift into gearThursday.
In addition to Earle Connor, Alister McQueen will take to the track in the T44 100 metres, 200 metres and javelin.
The Calgary product is the Canadian amputee record holder in all three events.
It will be the 21-year-old’s first Paralympics.
In cycling, Brayden McDougall and Jaye Miller, both of Calgary, will challenge the London Velodrome.
Morgan Bird, 18, is coming off record-breaking performances at the Canadian swimming trials where she set new marks in five different events. Okotoks’ Kirstie Kasko will join Bird in the pool.
Calgary wheelchair basketball players Chad Jassman and Kendra Ohama will take to the court, while Zak Madell, of Okotoks will do battle in wheelchair rugby.
On Twitter: @SUNMitchell