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Article of Interest - Visual Impairments

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U.S. Team 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 sighted runners.

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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