Finds Track Success at Blind World Championships
by Steve Nearman, The Washington Times, August 10, 2003
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QUEBEC CITY - In
the highlands a few kilometers north of the old city of Quebec
and the majestic St. Lawrence River, more than 900 visually
impaired athletes competed the past week at the second
International Blind Sports Association World Championships.
While the games contest sports like judo, cycling, swimming,
powerlifting and goalball, hundreds of participants have come to
cool Canada for medals in track and field and to prepare for the
2004 Paralympic Games in Athens.
"Before they're disabled, they're athletes," meet coordinator
Jean-Sebastien Porlier said.
Porlier, who has spent his time observing all the sports, smiled
when he explained how his organizing group has pulled off a
major event that easily could have been a great failure.
"First of all, we found out just a year and a half ago that we
were organizing this event," Porlier said. "So we had one year,
not the usual three, to organize. When the [Iraq] war started
[in March], we were worried about all the people getting
passports and visas. Then SARS came up.
"We got proactive about it and sent out letters to all of our
registrants. Over in Europe, they think Toronto is close to
Quebec [it is not]. Because in one day, you can go through many
European countries so they think you can go from Quebec to
Vancouver in one day. In the end, we didn't need to worry."
And in the end, Porlier counted athletes and support crews from
69 countries, some 20 more than he had expected.
The United States sent a contingent of 66, with nine track and
field athletes qualifying from across the nation. China also
boasts a large team, as do, surprisingly, Iran and Iraq. Estonia
is even here.
Blind athletes compete in three unique categories - B3, B2 and
B1 - depending upon the degree of blindness. While B3s are
legally blind, they do have sight and some drive cars. America's
most famous B3 is marathoner Marla Runyan, a successful
Paralympian who has moved on to compete with the world's best
B2s have limited vision, while B1s virtually have no light
perception, so they need guides to help them maneuver around the
track and through the field events. Events like the hurdles,
steeplechase and pole vault are not contested.
The United States has had success on the oval at the sprawling
Laval University track complex at the games, which began last
Sunday and end tomorrow.
After Asya Miller from East Lansing, Mich., won a bronze in the
women's discus, Royal Mitchell from the Philadelphia suburb of
Ardmore, Pa., scored gold in the B3 200 meters and 400 meters.
His blazing 22.04 in the 200 topped his own world record of
22.25 set in January 2001.
Mitchell, a 20-year who was born with severe myopia, earned gold
in the 400 at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics. Soon after, the
6-foot-1, 158-pound sprinter lost his focus and fell out of
shape until he moved in with veteran Paralympian Pam McGonigle
and her husband four months ago.
"I worked my [butt] off in the past four months," said Mitchell,
whose goal is to own the 100, 200 and 400 world records before
the Athens Olympic Games. "When it comes to running, I just run
like I am better than everybody else."
McGonigle, a 35-year-old B2 middle distance runner who was born
with albinism, came through in the 1,500. With longtime guide
Wade Counsil running stride-for-stride alongside, McGonigle
added a silver to her vast medal count, which includes one gold
and three bronze in three Paralympic appearances from 1992 to
2000. She still has the 800 to run today and tomorrow.
Four athletes earned their first medals in a world championship
when the team of Trent Blair [Utah], Joe Aukward [Maryland],
Nelacey Porter [Oregon] and Josiah Jamison [South Carolina]
scored silver in the 1,600-meter relay.
Mitchell will replace Blair in the 400-meter relay tomorrow, an
event in which the United States is favored.
The Province of Quebec also was a winner in these games,
according to Porlier. Close to $3.59 million is expected in
revenue from the 1,500 athletes and support crew who traveled
here for the nine-day competition. Not bad for a provincial
investment of $35,930 and Canadian federal aid of $104,196.
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