One-hundredth of a second.
One-hundredth of a second is, by all means used to clarify measurements, virtually no time. By the time you think about 0.01 seconds, it’s already passed a hundredfold. Blink and you’ve missed it. It takes 0.01 seconds for lightening to travel from a cloud to the earth.
During the Paralympic Games in Athens, lightning struck twice.
Canada’s Benoit Huot might just remember 0.01 seconds for the rest of his life. The same goes for Natalie du Toit. The two pulled off what many considered a freakish coincidence at the Games’ 50-meter freestyle swimming competition. Paralympic swimming is separated into 10 divisions based on the athletes’ ability to perform the skills the sport requires. Huot was competing in the men’s S10 division, while du Toit was in the women’s S9 division. Both had etched their names into the Paralympic record books earlier in the morning heats. Both had more in them.
The women’s 50 freestyle S9 final was first in the afternoon, and du Toit, whose left leg was amputated after a scooter accident, paced the field from the time she splashed into the water. When she touched the wall 50 meters later, she was a gold medalist and by 0.01 seconds had broken her own world record, which she’d set at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. “I tried my best, and I could have gone faster,” said du Toit, who collected five gold medals and one silver in Athens. “Still, it is a new world record by one single split of a second.”
The men’s 50 freestyle S10 was an instant replay. Huot hit the water and paced his followers the entire 50-meter race. Touching the wall in 24.71 seconds, he too won gold and broke his own world record, set in Edmonton in 2003. How much did he best his previous record by? One-hundredth of a second.
But the glory that comes with a world record is nothing new to Huot. Competing as an athlete with clubfeet, he entered the 2004 Paralympic Games ranked as the world’s No. 1 swimmer in the 50 freestyle and 200- meter individual medley. He held four world records and had won three gold and three silver medals at the Sydney Paralympics. Huot upped his performance to five golds and a silver in Athens, setting two additional world records and five Paralympic records. “I have already won five gold medals and one silver,” Huot said. “It has been a perfect meet for me here in Athens.”
If you walked through the Paralympic Village, you’d likely hear those words from a lot of athletes. At this year’s 12th Paralympic Games, record-breaking was commonplace. A total of 752 new marks were set—304 world records and 448 Paralympic records. Swimming alone had 252 records broken—97 world records and 155 Paralympic records. Seventeen of the marks fell on the final day of competition for the sport.
But the Games, which took place September 17-28 in Athens, Greece, made a larger step in securing a brighter future for the largest sporting event for athletes with disabilities.”Thank you athletes,” International Paralympic Committee President Phil Craven said during the closing ceremonies. “Your performances were incredible. You have raised your sports to a new level.” Indeed.
There were 3,837 athletes who competed in the Paralympic Games this year, coming from 136 nations, 17 of which supported competitors for the first time in history. Seventy-three of those countries took home at least one medal.
“The athletes who participated in these Paralympics excited and inspired the world and thereby brought the Paralympic Movement to a new, more advanced level,” Craven said.
Approximately 850,000 tickets were sold at the Games, and nearly 3,100 members of the media covered the events, including almost 50 broadcasters. Their coverage was justified, as 10 million Chinese and 8 million Japanese viewers tuned in to check out the opening ceremony, which was aired while most should have been sleeping. Other countries were interested, too. Highlights aired in Germany were watched by 1.5 million viewers. Roughly 2 million watched in Great Britain, 634,000 in Spain and 600,000 in Italy. (Disappointingly, ongoing coverage or regular highlights of the Games were not provided on any major U.S. network. Many hope this absence of coverage will be rectified during the 2006 Winter Games.)
China, however, dominated more than the ratings. In a landslide, the future host country collected 63 gold medals, 46 silver and 32 bronze; its grand total of 141 secured it as the greatest among 2004 Paralympics competitors. Great Britain was second with 35 gold, 30 silver and 29 bronze for a total of 94. Canada earned 28 gold medals, while the United States placed fourth with 27 gold medals.
Among the individual athletes, regardless of country of origin, stars were born and superstars became brighter.
Japan’s Mayumi Narita scorched the swimming competition by taking seven gold medals and one bronze. The 34-year-old set six world records and seven Paralympic records, and she was part of the Japanese team that broke the world and Paralympic record in the 4×50 freestyle for 20 points.
Erin Popovich of the United States also made a huge splash in the pool. She brought home seven gold medals while setting three world and five Paralympic records. The 19-year-old sophomore at Colorado State University is just beginning her promising run in the Paralympic Games. “Oh my God,” Popovich said. “There is not much I can say. It is unbelievable. I loved every moment of it and every medal. I don’t think I can single one out.”
Track cycling saw 41 records broken, with 18 new world records and 23 Games records. Australia had the most to cheer about, winning 15 medals to pace the field of competitors. Great Britain won six, with three gold, one silver and two bronze. The Americans earned a gold, two silver and two bronze.
Women powerlifters set 21 world and 27 Paralympic records, while the men rewrote four world and seven Paralympic marks. Iran’s Kazem Rajabigolojeh, competing in his first Paralympic Games, and Seyed Habibollah Mousavi proved to be the strongest men of the Games, shattering previous lifting records. For the women, China’s Bian Jian Xin and Li Rui Fang broke the world and Paralympic records eight different times in their respective classes.
Three world and seven Paralympic records fell in men’s archery, and the women set four new world and six new Paralympic records. Korea dominated the men’s event, while Italy took the women’s team title for the second Games in a row.
Shooting had 26 total records broken. Sweden was the most accurate of the field with six medals, four of which were won by Jonas Jacobsson. The 39-year-old broke eight world and Paralympic records and tied four others.