Superhero Movie

Superheroes often emerge from intense pain and suffering, according to their origin stories.

Jean-Baptiste Alaize was three years old when he witnessed the slaughter of his Tutsi mother at the hands of Hutus during the Burundi Civil War, and he himself fell to four machete blows that resulted in the loss of a leg.

Bebe Vio was eleven years old when she fell in a coma induced by a battle with meningitis, a condition akin to “imploding inside.” A budding fencing star and a ball of energy, the Italian pre-teen had to make the horrible decision to amputate both arms and legs to thwart the advance of the disease.

Tatyana McFadden was born in the Soviet Union with a congenital disorder which paralyzed her from the waist down at birth, in a country that did not officially recognize the existence of disabled people.

However, these three and many others profiled in a recently released Netflix documentary found redemption and achievement in sport. The film, Rising Phoenix, is an impassioned introduction to the Paralympic movement. Layering on top of the powerful theme of Channel 4’s marketing of the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Paralympics – We’re the Superhumans! – Rising Phoenix gives Para athletes the Hollywood superhero treatment.

The production values of Rising Phoenix can be described as lavish. Aussie swimmer Ellie Cole is shot dancing under water, rays of light piercing the dark waters. Alaize sits open and relaxed on a spacious couch in an ornate French Baroque setting. South African sprinter Ntandu Mahlangu is interviewed with an actual cheetah in repose at his own cheetah blades. And Vio is filmed lovingly in slow motion, strapped to a wheelchair, lunging and gyrating to angelic music.

And yet when it comes to recognizing the disabled, Rising Phoenix is the exception. Every superhero has a weakness. For Superman, it is kryptonite. For Para athletes, and people with disabilities, it is apathy.

Rising Phoenix is a tale of Two Paralympics, nearly the best of times and the worst of times for the paramount global event for athletes with disabilities. The 2012 London Paralympics were a triumph of the organizers, an event that packed the stadiums and arenas, energized a city, and inspired the world. The 2016 Rio Olympics, as we learn in the film, nearly ended the Paralympic movement.

Rising Rio

Seven weeks before the start of the 2016 Rio Paralympics, then president of the Brazilian Paralympic Committee. Andrew Parsons was given terrible news by the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games – they did not have enough money to run the Paralympic Games.

“Fµ©≤ing hell,” said Sir Philip Craven, then president of the International Paralympic Committee. “There was no money.”

“They are not telling you, we can do that, or we can do that,” said Xavier Gonzalez, CEO of the IPC at that time. “They are telling you we cannot organize the games. I couldn’t at that moment see how we could fix it. And that was scary.”

And as potential Rio Paralympians began to understand that the rumors were true, they had that sinking, familiar feeling from childhood, their teenage years, and still today: unfairness, humiliation, helplessness. Said two-time T-44 men’s 100-meter sprint champion, Jonnie Peacock of Team GB, “you just feel like these people don’t view the Paralympics as anything.”

Parsons explained in exasperation how he could not give clear answers to the national Paralympic committees who worried whether the Games would happen or not. But he and the filmmakers were explicit in explaining who was to blame. Speaking over images of the Rio Olympic Organizing Committee, including chairman Carlos Nuzman, who was subsequently arrested for corruption and bribery, Parsons said, “forget about these guys, the leadership, because they won’t help.”

Rising Phoenix goes on to tell the nail-biting story of how IPC leadership, Parsons, Craven and Gonzalez, convinced the Brazilian government and skeptical authorities to keep this dream alive not only for over 4,300 Para athletes, but also for 24 million persons of disability in Brazil.

The 2012 London Paralympics is held up as the gold standard for awakening the world to the incredible athletic abilities of Para athletes. But it is the 2016 Rio Paralympics that may have saved the movement. Said Craven, “We’d have really broken the cycle. Confidence wouldn’t have been there in the future. It would (have been) the extinguishing of that Paralympic flame.”

Changing the World

Instead, the flame burns brightly today. Rising Phoenix brings alive the power of the movement, and the dreams of these superheroes.

  • The incredible story of the movement’s founder, Ludwig Guttman
  • The reunification of mother and child as summer Paralympian, Tatyana McFadden wins cross-country silver in the Winter Paralympics in her country of birth, Russia.
  • The dramatic and stirring gold medal victory of ebullient Bebe Vio in wheelchair fencing, who carries you on her shoulders in waves of joy.

“No one stays the same after watching the movie,” said Parsons in a recent interview with 20 foreign chambers of commerce in Japan. “If ten people watch the movie, ten people will be changed. If ten million people watch the movie, ten million people will be changed. I want the entire world to watch this movie.”

So do I.

Note: All film poster images shared with permission of the IPC.

“I was supposed to be in Tokyo today, rehearsing my opening speech,” said Andrew Parsons wistfully.

It was a little after 8pm on Monday, August 24, 2020 Japan time. Parsons, the President of the International Paralympics Committee (IPC), was addressing members of 20 foreign chambers of commerce in Japan in a Zoom meeting. The event marked one year to go for the Tokyo2020 Paralympics.

The Paralympics would have kicked off in Japan on Tuesday, August 25, 2020 if not for the devastating and global impact of COVID-19 virus. It was March 24, 2020 when the fateful decision was made to postpone both the Tokyo2020 Olympics and Paralympics for a year. “That decision was not taken lightly, but it was the right one,” said Parsons. “Had the games been tomorrow, there’s no chance they would have happened.”

Putting the Puzzle Back Together

March 24 brought devastating news to the organizers in Japan. Yasushi Yamawaki, IPC Governing Board Member at Large and Tokyo 2020 Vice President said they were more than surprised.

“When the decision was made to postpone the games, most of the staff and partners, were very much shocked. They had spent seven years putting together the biggest and most complicated jigsaw puzzle. And with a few pieces to go, they were told to start over again.”

There are dozens of major sponsors, over 180 National Paralympic Committees, dozens of international sports federations, and thousands of athletes who had questions. But for the IPC, a huge question that had to be answered was how to ensure funding for Tokyo2020 in 2021. As Craig Spence, IPC Chief Brand & Communications Officer, explained, it was critical to re-do the contracts with the broadcasters first.

“From an IPC point of view, we had to review 300 contracts in the space of two weeks. We have TV contracts with 165 broadcasters. Each contract needed to be reviewed. And each contract impacted the cash flow of the IPC for 2020 because we were due money this year, but the TV contract was then moved to next year.”

And Parsons reminded everybody that this incredibly complex and urgent work had to be done in the challenging environment of a pandemic. “We had to manage our cash flow,” said Parsons. “But we also needed to work with our staff all over the world, many of whom were living away from their families during the most demanding period ever for the IPC.”

Parsons is hopeful, but he is realistic. He said that everything that can be done, that can be controlled, will be. Planning will continue through the end of September. The IPC will focus on countermeasures to COVID-19 in the last quarter of 2020, and then will enter operational readiness in the first quarter of 2021. After that, important decisions will have to be made.

“We still have one year to go. We will follow the development of the pandemic. Unfortunately, none of us have a crystal ball. We have to work as if the Games are going ahead. This is the tricky part – how to work towards something you don’t know 100% is going ahead or not. But at the moment we are working full speed ahead preparing for the Games as if they are happening.”

The postponement resulted in a re-planning process that prioritized two things: the safety and health of the athletes and an approach to budgeting only what is necessary, a sustainability mindset that can be applied to future Paralympics, something that Parsons calls the Principles. “In these principles, the safety of athletes Is the number 1 priority for us,” said Parsons. “Everything that is not fundamental for the Games will be downscaled or cut.”

No Question of the Tokyo2020 Legacy

The Paralympics were postponed for a year. But Tokyo2020 is already establishing a legacy in Japan. Yamawaki explained that Tokyo is one of the most accessible cities in the world for the disabled, and that the media showcases the capabilities and personalities of the Para athletes almost on a daily basis.

Spence shared comparative data showing the impact of the run-up to the Games.

“In the build up to London 2012 with 18 months to go, less than 1% of the British population could name a Paralympian, and everyone sees London as the benchmark. In Tokyo last year, 45% of the Japanese population could recognize Shingo Kunieda, the wheelchair tennis player. So that shows the real difference in interest. In terms of accessible transport, I think when Tokyo won the right to stage the Games, around 75% of the city’s metro stations were accessible. By the time the Games happen next year, that’s going to be at 99%. That would never have happened had it not been for the Paralympics coming to Tokyo. The legacies are going to be tremendous.” 

Yamawaki oversees the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center, which is driving a groundbreaking education program in Japan’s school system. The IPC’s “I’mPossible” program – a toolkit of resources designed to engage 6-12 year old students about the Paralympic movement – is being pioneered in Japan with great success. Yamawaki said that this program has been delivered to 36,000 primary and secondary schools across Japan.

Children can learn from this unique learning opportunity,” said Yamawaki. “They will become future leaders in creating an inclusive society in this country after the Paralympics are over. It’s going to be one of the biggest legacies. Usually the parents teach the children, but in the I’mPossible program, kids teach the parents. This will increase parents’ awareness of the Paralympic Games and Paralympic sports. That’s the biggest impact we’re seeing.”

What You Can Do

Here are a few suggestions from IPC leaders on what we all can do to support the Paralympics broadly, and people with disabilities specifically.

Employ Persons with Disabilities: If your company does not employ persons with disabilities, it should. If your office is not set up to deal with people in wheelchairs, put in ramps. If you have a restaurant or a canteen, make your menus available in braille, or put your information on the internet so that people with disabilities can more easily access the information.

See the Opportunity: As Spence explained, before he joined the IPC, he didn’t realize people with disabilities are such great problem solvers.

“People with disabilities face challenges on a daily basis. They don’t tend to moan. They don’t just sit around thinking I can’t get around this. They always find innovative ways to get around and beat the challenge. They can bring a whole new creativity and new outlook to your business.”

Go See the Games: Seeing the Para athletes in action will change your attitude for life. Get as many people around you to see the Games.

“There’s very few people in the world who can run 100 meters in under 10.5 seconds,” said Spence. “Yet we have athletes with prosthetic legs and running blades who can do it in 10.4 seconds. It really does challenge perceptions towards disability.”

See my review for Rising Phoenix.
Rising Phoenix: The Stirring Netflix Documentary on the Paralympic Movement that Seeks to Change the World

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Japan is an orderly place, run by officials and managers who tend to be risk averse. That’s why things work so efficiently and effectively here.

Thus, when Tokyo2020 organizers created an Artist Selection Committee to create official posters for the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, I would have expected them to be traditional in their outlook.

After all, the posters that have been in the public eye for the past few years have been those of the Olympic and Paralympic logos – as conservative as you can be.

But Tokyo2020 is not your grandparent’s Tokyo1964. The committee commissioned19 artists to create posters, and I imagine that the brief they were given was very liberal. Of the 20 official posters that were officially revealed in early January, only 4 at most would be identified as representing the Olympics and Paralympics, either because the official logos are referenced, or Tokyo 2020 is explicitly displayed. The other 16 could be posters for anything.

But that’s OK. They are a wide variety of styles and interpretations of what the Olympics and Paralympics represent, which is in line with the hopes of Masayoshi Aoyagi, the chairman of the artist selection committee, who said in this article that the committee looked for a diversity of values and aesthetic sense to reflect this era of diversity, and so they selected photographers, manga artists, graphic designers. He said that you can see the very rich diversity of the art scene, as well as the incredible individuality and creativity of these artists.

If you are in Tokyo, you can see all 20 posters on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo until February 16, 2020. There is no charge for viewing this exhibit.

 

HARMONIZED CHEQUERED EMBLEM STUDY FOR TOKYO 2020 OLYMPIC/PARALYMPIC GAMES, by Asao Tokolo

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Tokolo was selected to design the logos for Tokyo 2020 in April, 2016, and it is his design that has been the object of the posters promoting the Olympics. For this larger poster project, Tokolo reimagined his design for two separate Olympic and Paralympic posters, creating patterns that to me, reflect celestial bodies or traditional Japanese fabrics. Tokolo said that “…these designs, ‘individual’ rectangles form ‘groups’ under ‘rules.’ The designs were created partly on the computer, partly by hand. My aim was to create a ‘relay baton’ to be passed on from 2020 to future generations. I created the designs as a tribute to the Tokyo 1964 designers, who relied on compasses and rulers for their creations, and by imagining what mediums would be employed by designers of the future.”

 

Now it’s your turn! by Naoki Urasawa and The Sky above the Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa by Hirohiko Araki

Urasawa and Araki

Both Urasawa and Araki are acclaimed artists of manga, the Japanese style of comic book drawing. Urasawa of Tokyo, whose manga works include best-selling titles as “Yawara!” and “MONSTER,” created a comic page that shows an athlete getting ready, with the anticipatory words “tsuzuku,” at the bottom, which means “to be continued.” Araki, a Miyagi artist who is known for his comic series, “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure,” riffed on a very popular Japanese image – Hokusai’s “Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa. “I imagined the gods of sports descending on Japan from a sky filled with clouds resembling turbulent waves.

 

FLY HIGH by Shoko Kanazawa and Open by Koji Kakinuma

Kanazawa and Kakinuma

Two calligraphers were invited to create posters for Tokyo2020.  Kanazawa selected the first character in her first name “sho,” to boldly represent her wish that “everybody supporting the Olympic Games, will soar high above Tokyo to reach people the world over.” The character “sho” means “to fly high.” Kakinuma selected the characther “開,” which means “open.” He said “I imagined Olympic and Paralympic athletes working toward new height every day, and told myself, ‘Open, open, open!’ as I applied brush to paper until I felt myself to be completely ‘open.'”

 

Flow line, by Daijiro Ohara

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Ohara is an artist from Kanagawa, Japan who imagined the route of the Olympic flame from Athens to Tokyo as a jumbled set of intersecting lines and loops, which reflects the complexity of connectivity. “What could possibly link an individual with an event in which world-class athletes compete?” asked Ohara. “It is not easy to grasp what does connect a huge-scale event with an individual –  such connections can be erratic, or elusive.”

 

Higher than the Rainbow by Mika Ninagawa, and Ludus, by Viviane Sassen

Ninagawa and Sassen

Ninagawa is a photographer and filmmaker who is reflecting the limitless potential of para-athletes. Of this image of Renshi Chokai, she said “para-athletes are cool. This simple message is what this picture is about.”  Sassen, a photographer, from Amsterdam, said she wanted to “depict the JOY of PLAY,” as well as cultural diversity and the variety of nationalities who all come together to participate in the Olympic Games.”

 

Wild Things – Hachilympic, by Tomoko Konoike

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The most arresting poster to me was this “wild thing,” chasing a bee (“hachi” in Japanese). Perhaps Konoike, an artist from Akita, was channeling Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things. She said that “as animals, each human being grasps the world with totally different perceptions. We see the world through our own unwelts. None are the same. No words are identical. No light is identical. If the Olympic Games prepare themselves for that and address it honestly, then in time, a new ecosystem, filled with the senses, for a small organism, will begin to function.”

All photographs above were taken by the author.

You can see all of the posters at this link.

Reiwa characters
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga unveils the new era name “Reiwa” at a press conference_Reuters

Tomorrow, May 1, 2019, begins the era of Reiwa in Japan.

Today, April 30, 2019, Emperor Akihito, the son of Emperor Hirohito, will abdicate the throne and be succeeded by his son, the Crown Prince Naruhito.

In Japan, every period of an Emperor’s rule is given a name, and the Japanese commonly used the era name to mark time. Hirohito’s was Showa, and I was born in the year of Showa 38 (or 1963). Akihito’s was Heisei, and I was married in the year of Heisei 2 (or 1990).

Akihito (age 85) is the first emperor in 200 years to step down from the throne, and he does so in order for he and his wife, Empress Michiko (age 84), to live out the remainder of their lives in a more leisurely fashion, without the daily duties of the royal house. After all, Akihito and Michiko, showed Japan throughout their courtship and marriage that they too had to grow and change with the times.

Akihito and Michiko playing tennis in their early years_Getty
Akihito and Michiko playing tennis after announcing their engagement in 1958.

They first met on a tennis court in Karuizawa one day in August 1957. According to The Daily News, Michiko was partnered with an American named Bobby Doyle, and the Japan-US duo defeated Akihito in his partner over a two-hour two setter. It is said Akihito took a picture of Michiko and quietly had a friend deliver it to her. He also invited Michiko to join another tennis match, with the Shah of Iran.

Thus began the famous tennis romance, that blossomed not only for the couple, but for the entire nation. Not only did the royal couple spark a tennis boom in Japan, there was a boom in interest in the royal family. For Michiko was not of royal blood – a commoner who won the heart of the future Emperor, and “Mit-chi” as Michiko was affectionately called, was highly popular. Their eventual marriage on April 10, 1959, complete with a 8.8 kilometer procession through Tokyo in horse-drawn carriage, was viewed by half-a-million people who lined the course, and tens or million more on newly purchased televisions.

In another break from tradition, Akihito and Michiko decided that they would raise their own children instead of the practice of leaving the rearing of the children to tutors.

Thanks to the newly-founded powers of television to bring images instantly and up close to the average person, the crown prince and princess became celebrities of sorts. People were happy to catch a glimpse of them on a tennis court in Karuizawa or at a pizza restaurant in Roppongi. The members of a preparatory committee who hoped to bring the Stoke Mandeville Games to Tokyo also hoped to leverage the star power of the royal couple.

As related in a previous post, Yoshiyuki Kasai, who led the preparatory committee to bring what would become the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, arranged for Akihito and Michiko to meet the first Japanese to compete in the Stoke Mandeville Games in London, and tell the couple of their experience competing in a foreign land. Photos of the popular prince and princess with the disabled athletes ignited the preparatory committee’s ability to gain support more broadly within public and private circles.

031164 - Crown Prince Akihito meets teams Tokyo Games - 3b - Sca
The Crown Prince Akihito and Empress Michiko meet representatives of the Australian Paralympic Team and other teams at the Opening Ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

As a result, not only did Akihito and Michiko help make the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics a reality, they were present during much of the 5-day Tokyo Paralympics, not just sitting in the audience, but interacting with the athletes on camera. They single-handedly brought significant national attention to the disabled, and raised the profile of this new international event despite the fact that Japan had just experienced it’s greatest international event, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, only weeks before.

The reign of Heisei is ending. But the legacies of Akihito and Michiko, including those in the world of sports, will last forever.

Elderly Akihito and Michiko playing tennis

Kengo Kuma's Staidum
Kengo Kuma’s National Stadium design

One thousand and ninety six more days to the commencement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics!

That’s 365 X 3 + 1. Don’t forget, 2020 is a leap year!

Three years hence from today, July 24, Tokyo will be welcoming the world to the biggest sports fest there is – The Summer Olympics.

The first country to ever host both the Summer Olympics and the Paralympics twice, Japan will be the focal point for sports from July 24 to August 9, 2020.

In 1964, Tokyo hosted the Olympics from October 10 to 24, for a total of 16 days, which was standard in the 1960s and 1970s. However, since Barcelona, the opening ceremonies was pushed one day earlier from Saturday to Friday, likely allowing for two full weekends of sporting events, and an opportunity to maximize television viewership.

Another difference between 1964 and 2020 is the timing. In 1964, the “Summer” Olympics were held in the Fall to avoid September monsoons. But this time, the Olympics will be held in the hottest period in Japan – late July and early August. This has been the general timing for the past eleven Summer Olympics, excluding a September Sydney Games and Seoul Games.

My guess is that the various international federations want consistency in Olympic scheduling so that their own world championships and Olympic trials do not end up in conflict. That would be the same for many school systems that go on holiday break during the summer months. And television broadcasters may also prefer to have the Olympics to fill what are usually filled with summer repeats.

But I speculate.

One thing is certain. The Summer Olympics are coming to Tokyo on July 24, 2020.

Hope to see you here.

And just in case you need to know, click here for the countdown to Tokyo 2020.

See you in Tokyo Rio Olympics
Tokyo’s Presentation at the Rio Olympic Closing Ceremonies

 

Japanese Mascots
What it might look like at a Japanese mascot convention

 

In the land of kawaii (cute), where sports teams, companies, and cities have their own mascots, The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is offering you a chance to animate that essence of joy you experienced as a child.

Tokyo 2020 has requested the Japanese public to submit their designs for the mascots of the Tokyo 2020 Games – both the Olympics and Paralympics. Whether you’re a professional illustrator or a convenience store freeter, you can submit a design, although you need to be 18 years or older. Non-Japanese living in Japan are also eligible.

An entry can be submitted by a group as well. The group can have a max of 10 people in it. Above age and nationality conditions apply to all group members.

Start working on those lovable characters now, because the design submission period is August 1 – 14.

But be forewarned. Shortlisted designs will have a tough group of evaluators. The organizing committee requires that elementary school classes across Japan, the international schools, will vote and thus end up selecting the winner.

That’s a pretty cool idea actually

So here’s the brief from Tokyo 2020, and here’s the timeline:

  • August 1 to 14, 2017 – design submission period (submission via a special website)
  • December 2017 – mascot panel selects shortlist of design sets
  • December 2017 to January 2018 – elementary school children vote on the shortlist
  • March 2018 – design set with the largest number of votes is announced as the winner
  • July to August 2018 – mascot panel decides names for the winning mascots

Good luck!

 

PS: Read the fine print on intellectual property in the brief!

channel-4-promotional-ad-paralympics

As Japan gears up for the 2020 Olympics, they take great comfort from the success of their athletes at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Japan finished sixth in the medals table with 41 total – the country’s best showing ever. But as the country prepares for the 2020 Paralympics, they were stunned that Japan could not garner a single gold medal at the Rio Paralympics, finishing 64th out of 76 in the total medal count.

It made me wonder, what are the factors that contribute to success at the Paralympics, at least in terms of medal haul. A quick analysis indicates that a robust economy, established leadership, focused funding, and strong societal commitment to fair and reasonable accessibility for the disabled.

Robust Economy: China, Great Britain, the US, and Australia were in the top five in the Rio Paralympics, which suggests that a success factor in the Paralympics is a strong economy. However, Japan as a case in point indicates that a strong economy is not the only factor.

Established Leadership: The Ukraine is not an economy nearly as strong or stable as the others in the top five. Their success, according to this BBC report, is because Ukraine has strong leadership, in this case, a person who designed and powerfully drove a national program that focused on the development of young people with disabilities.

rio-paralympic-medal-table
2016 Rio Paralympic medal table
Ukraine were 31 places below Team USA in the Olympics medal table, but one place above them at the Rio Paralympics. They are reaping the rewards of foundations set by Valeriy Sushkevych, founder and president of the Paralympic Committee of Ukraine, who helped develop a physical education and sport programme for young people with disabilities.

Focused Funding: Strong leadership needs access to funding. When BBC compared the success of China and the US in paralympic competition, they noted that China’s paralympic development programs have access to significant funds, while the US paralympics train under constant financial constraints. The USOC runs its funding on a corporate sponsorship model, and does not receive government funds. The Chinese model is entirely government supported. The way the funds are divvied up between athletes for the Olympics and the Paralympics differs greatly as well.

With money raised through sponsorship deals with major brands such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Visa, USOC hands out about $50m (£39m) a year to US athletes across different sports, with the Rio Paralympics team receiving about $4m (£3m). Meanwhile, the Chinese government is aiming to develop a £647bn sports industry by 2025 and in recent years has increased its investment in sport, including football, Olympics and Paralympics. As of 2016, China has trained more than 42,100 fitness instructors for the disabled and has built 225 provincial and 34 national specialised sports training centres. The China Disability Sports Training Centre in Beijing, opened in 2007, also provides state-of-the-art facilities for disabled athletes.

Strong Societal Commitment: Also with strong leadership may come a strong, broad-based commitment, not just by governments or organizations devoted to the development of sports and athletes, but also by society. When laws are enacted to grow awareness of and increase access for the disabled, then society becomes more open and supportive.

One can conclude that hosting the Paralympics acts like an accelerant for commitment to the disabled. Before Brazil, the previous four nations to host the Paralympics were Great Britain, China, Greece and Australia. Except for Greece, Great Britain, China and Australia were in the top five of the Rio Paralympics medals table.

The investment in Paralympic success was abundant in 2012 for TeamGB. The same was true for China in 2008. The assumption is that Japanese authorities will aim not only for success for Team Nippon in the Olympics but also the Paralympics. Clearly, hosting the Olympics and Paralympics is tremendous incentive to make significant investments. And with the country’s pride on the line, the investment will flow, perceptions will shift, rules and laws may change, and Japan, by 2020, may become one of the most inclusive nations in the world. My guess is that Japan will do very well in the Tokyo Paralympics as well.

The 2016 Summer Paralympics will take place in Rio de Janeiro from September 7 to 18. And while these are the eighteenth Paralympic Games, and they get considerably less press and attention than the Olympic Games that precede them, there is no doubt that the participants in the Paralympics are athletes, amazing athletes, in ways difficult for the majority of us who have a body with fully functioning parts to comprehend.

To many of us, those who are, for example, blind or deaf, have a missing limb or two, are thought to be at a disadvantage. My current understanding is that the world and the rules we live with were built first for the average person in mind. But with the changes in laws and mindsets in many countries, and thriving disabled role models reflected back to us in film, television and sport as enabled athletes, the perceptions of many are changing.

Tony Dee sings Yes I Can

In Japan for example, the government has challenged the private sector with the task of ensuring that 2% of its workforce is made up of disabled or special needs employees. In the early years, companies struggled to find the talent who could be employed and do work that was meaningful for both the employee and the employer. Today, leaders and employees alike are far more experienced in the hiring of and adjusting to the disabled, and they in turn are become more experienced in the workplace, gaining greater skills and knowledge.

Role models, as I have written several times in the past, are so important. Channel Four, one of the major television stations in England, is the broadcaster of the Paralympic Games for England. And to promote the 2016 Paralympic Games, they produced an absolutely fantastic video that showcases “superhuman” abilities. You have likely seen it. The nearly 3-minute video is called “Yes I Can”, a Sammy Davis Jr classic.

Alvin Law
Alvin Law

 

What’s wonderful about this promotional video is Channel Four’s emphasis not just of amazing athletes, but also of “ordinary” people: musicians and dancers, office workers, moms and kids. The video opens with Canadian drummer, Alvin Law, who was born without arms and has played drums with his feet for 45 years. “It’s so weird that this song is called ‘Yes I Can’ because it was my mantra in our home growing up. My mum and dad said it till I was TIRED of it. There’s no such word as can’t. This is sort of that same thing but with an incredibly positive spin and makes perfect sense to me.”

Law went on to say that “this is not about disability, this is about crazy talent.”

I could not agree more. I can almost feel the soft abrasions of my perceptions shifting as I watch this amazing and uplifting video.

Oscar Pistorius led away

On July 6, double-amputee Olympian Oscar Pistorius, was sentenced to six years in prison for murder. The South African, who competed in the 400-meter sprint at the 2012 London Olympics, was convicted for firing four bullets into his bathroom door, killing his girlfriend Reena Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day three years ago.

In this high-profile long-running set of trials, Pistorius claimed someone had intruded his home and that he fired his gun fearful for his life. Many feel that Pistorius was let off easy, his six years not coming close to what many thought would be a 10- to 15-year sentence.

In the long history of the Olympics, Pistorius joins a small group of Olympians who served time for murder, according to one my favorite go-to books, The Book of Olympic Lists, by David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky. In their list of 20 Olympians Who Did Time in Prison, there are four other Olympians who went to the slammer for murder.

James Snook
Dr. James Snook

James Snook: Snook was a member of the gold medal winning US Free Pistol Shooting team at the Antwerp Games in 1920. At the age of 48, then a professor of veterinary medicine at Ohio State, Snook confessed to the murder of his mistress, Theora Hix. He was put to death in the electric chair after being found guilty of taking a hammer to Hix after violent sex at a rifle range.

Humberto Mariles
Humberto Mariles

Humberto Mariles: This two-time gold medalist and bronze medalist equestrian from Mexico competed at the 1948 Games in London and the 1952 Games in Helsinki. One August summer day, Mariles experienced an extreme fit of road rage when another motorist forced him off the road. According to Wallenchinsky and Loucky, “at the next traffi light Mariles pulled out a gun and shot the man.” Mariles was sent to prison but was pardoned by the President of Mexico.

Ludovit Platchetka
Ludovit Platchetka

Ludovit Plachetka: Plachetka was a middleweight boxer from the Czech Republic who won his first match at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics against a boxer from Swaziland before being eliminated by a boxer from Uzbekistan. According to Wallechinsky and Loucky, Plachetka went from Olympian to felon in less than a year. Apparently he was in an ongoing dispute with his girlfriend over visitation rights of their child that escalated to the point where Plachetka shot to death the mother of his girlfriend. He would have shot his girlfriend if not for gun jamming at that moment. The former boxer/bouncer was sentenced to 13 years.

As for Pistorius, six years may seem like a long time for him. But a top sports officials in South Africa has said the sentence includes time served, and that with good behavior could be out in time to train and participate in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

According to the Daily Mail, “Tubby Reddy, CEO of South Africa’s Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, said he had ‘no problem’ with the idea of the ‘Blade Runner’ returning to the national team and representing his country at the highest level – despite widespread condemnation of Pistorius’ crime and six year sentence.”

Mockridge and Cox
Russell Mockridge and Lionel Cox win gold in the 2000-meter tandem event at the 1952 Games in Helsinki

The bicycle built for two, made famous in the 1892 song “Dasiy Bell”.

Daisy, Daisy, Give me your answer do!
I’m half crazy, All for the love of you!
It won’t be a stylish marriage,
I can’t afford a carriage
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle made for two.

Did you know that bicycles built for two were also vehicles for Olympic competition? Tandem racing over 2000 meters was an Olympic event from the first modern Games in 1896 in Athens, to the 1972 Games in Munich.

In 1952, at the Helsinki Olympic Games, two Australian cyclists, Lionel Cox and Russell Mockridge, decided to compete in the tandem cycling event despite never having ridden on a tandem bike together. In fact, not only had they not practiced together before arriving in Helsinki, they didn’t even have a tandem bike to compete on. They eventually took on a discarded bicycle from the British team. They had to actually assemble it on their own before practicing for the first time.

On a tandem bike, one cyclist can ease off the pedalling while the other pedals hard, but if both cyclists pedal hard, you can generate speeds significantly greater than a cyclist on a single-seat bike. In one of the heats prior to the finals of the 2000 meter competition, the Australians were leading when Mockridge, who was seated up front, eased up at the end. The result was a photo finish that took considerable time before the judges declared the winner of the elimination heat. Mockridge and Cox went on to win gold, in fact the second one for Mockridge that day. (He had won gold in the men’s 1000 meter time trial.)

Although the tandem cycling event was discontinued, it still exists in the Paralympics where a blind or visually impaired person is seated in the rear seat. In the front seat is a sighted person who is not a professional cyclist.

tandem cyclying_Scott and McGlynn
Great Britain’s Helen Scott and Aileen McGlynn during a training session at the velodrome in the Olympic Park Photo: PA