Paralympics – 2002 Salt Lake (Part I)

Xavier Gonzalez, a veteran of three Paralympic Summer games, is the Managing Director of the Salt Lake 2002 Paralympic Winter Games.

“Consistently, the first name voiced has been Xavier Gonzalez. We are thrilled to bring him on board for Salt Lake’s Paralympic efforts. He clearly is very talented in this area, highly respected in the Paralympic community, and brings tremendous experience,” said Fraser Bullock, SLOC Chief Operating Officer.

Gonzalez served as the Vice President of Sports and Venues for the Atlanta Paralympic Organizing Committee from 1993-96. He was responsible for the organization and management of 17 official sports and two demonstration sports. Gonzalez also served as the Deputy Director of Sports organizations for the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games. Recently, he has successfully concluded his task as General Manager of Sport and Games Operations at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Summer Games.

ABILITY spoke with Xavier Gonzalez.

Chet Cooper: How long have you been with the Paralympics?

Xavier Gonzalez: I have been with the Paralympics since 1989. I started with the organizing committee of the Paralympic Games in Barcelona.

CC: You are from Barcelona?

XG: Yes.

CC: How did you connect with the Paralympics?

XG: Basically, it was being in the right place at the right time. At that time, I was the director of sports for a city near Barcelona called Abalona. I was responsible for putting together all of the sports activity. In Spain, cities have a very important role in the planning of sports events. It could be compared to Parks and Rec in the US, but it is more extensive. We also plan the sports programs at the schools and promote professional sports activities in the city. So, for about three years prior to 1989, I was managing all the sports programs in Abalona. When the organizing committee of the Olympic Games decided to also take the responsibility of organizing the Paralympic Games they were looking for a deputy director of sports. I applied and I got the job.

CC: So, have you moved to the United States?

XG: Yes. After Barcelona, I was hired by the Paralympic Games in Atlanta for the summer. I moved to Atlanta with my family. We spent three years in a house there. After the games, I moved to Sydney to work with the Sydney Paralympic Summer Games. I lived there for almost four years. In December of 2000, I moved here [Salt Lake City.] So, I have been here a little more than a year.

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CC: How does your family like that?

XG: My family has been growing as we have been moving (laughs). They have enjoyed the opportunity to live in different countries. My kids have made a pretty good adjustment to Salt Lake and to the school system. We are very pleased to be here. It has been a big change from Sydney-with a climate so different than here. But, here there are a lot of activities during the winter and summer. We are very pleased how things have gone family-wise.

CC: How would you describe the Paralympics to somebody unfamiliar with it?

XG: The Paralympics is a sporting event for athletes with disabilities for elite athletes with disabilities. The name “Paralympics” really reflects what we are. We are parallel to the Olympics or next to the Olympics. It is a sensational sporting event with athletes of incredible qualities where people can see extraordinary performances and competition AD at the maximum level possible. It is different because it has athletes with disabilities and there are small changes to make sure the competition can be run. The Paralympic Games has opening and closing ceremonies that have all the same elements that you would expect from the cere monies at any large sporting event, including high quality entertainers. That means you will have a package that is similar to the Olympics or any major sporting event, along with sensational performances from the athletes.

CC: What are some of the sports that the Paralympics feature?

XG: We have three main sports. One is alpine skiing. Another is what we call nordic skiing that includes two disciplines-cross country and biathlon. We also have ice sledge hockey. Alpine skiing has four disciplines; downhill, super G. giant slalom and slalom. We have one day for biathlon with a 7.5 kilometers race. We have five days of cross-country with short. middle and long distances and relays. We use a classification system for the skiing events that groups competitors with similar disabilities.

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The three basic categories are standing. sit-ski and visually impaired. Ice sledge hockey has the same rules as regular hockey except that the players use sledges [for movement] because they cannot play standing. We will have eight days of hockey co petition with a tournament of six teams.

CC: How many countries are represented?

XG: 36 countries-it’s the largest Paralympics Games ever in terms of the number of countries participating. We are very pleased because for the first time we have countries from South America [Chile and Argentina] competing in the Paralympic Games. We also have the largest country in the world, China, competing.

CC: Have those countries competed in the Paralympic Summer Games?

XG: In the summer games, yes. I was referring to the winter games. In the summer games, we had about 133 countries.

CC: What’s the time difference between the ending of the Olympics and the Paralympics?

XG: Basically, it’s about ten days of change between the end of the Olympics and the beginning of the Paralympics. Athletes started arriving at Salt Lake on the first of March. Opening ceremonies take place at the same venue as the Olympics opening ceremonies–the Rice Eccles Olympic Stadium. The closing ceremonies take place at the Olympics Medals Plaza. That is a venue built for the Olympics and the Paralympics in downtown.

CC: Did you work at the Atlanta Games?

XG: Yes. I worked for the organizing committee for the Paralympic Games in Atlanta.

CC: I was not able to attend the Summer games in Sydney. But, I did attend the Atlanta games in 1996. It was definitely a great event.

XG: Sydney was extraordinary. I think it was a step further. We had around 1.2 million spectators attending the games. The public really embraced the Paralympic Games as something special.

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CC: What is the connection now between the Olympics and Paralympics?

XG: Both games use one organizing committee. The first time we did that was in the Barcelona summer games. We were working very close together through the sponsorship and support of the government. We are still working on better ways to organize the games.

CC: What is your web-site?

XG: People can go there to see specific information. We are very pleased to say that the web-site has a future. We now have online all the results for all of the Paralympic Winter Games since the first one in 1976 in Sweden. All the results are available to anybody that wants them. We will also have real-time results posted during the games. And we have slide shows of the different events.

Otto is an American River otter, born in the Green River area near Flaming 0 Gorge. He is an only pup and lives with his Mom and Dad in the Wasatch Mountains. Otto loves to eat fish and sometimes uses tools to help him get to his meals. Otto is a friend to all, but his closest friends are the Paralympic Mind, Body, Spirit team, Paralympic athletes, and his best friends are children. Otto can play almost every sport, but his favorites are skiing (he likes to go down on his tail!) and sledge hockey (sometimes he plays with his goggles on). He loves to ski with his friend and Paralympic athlete Chris Waddell. This all helps keep his mind keen and his body in shape. His favorite colors are red, green and blue the colors of the Paralympic flag. Otto speaks a universal language of peace and love.

Ancient Indians revered otters as the most powerful of animals. Before the advent of commercial trap ping hunters did not kill otters because doing so was considered bad luck. However, pollution and over trapping nearly wiped out the offer in the early 1900’s. They have rebounded from near extinction and were reintroduced to Utah in 1990. As the mascot for the Paralympics, Otto serves as a symbol of strength and power, setting an example by rebounding from adversity.

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