Stuart Weir wrote this piece on the fascinating event of the IPC Long Jump. Stuart gets athletics. He also is able to communicate that enthusiasm and admiration, as he did in this piece on the IPC Visual impaired Long Jump.
Writing about disability sport is a challenge. You want to get the balance between doing justice to the achievements but yet not exaggerating. The slogan for the 2015 World (disability) Athletics Championships in Doha was “Beyond incredible”. I was not terribly comfortable with the wording as I thought it was in danger of making para athletics sound like a freak show. Arguably it is no more incredible for a para athlete to break a world record than for Usain Bolt to run 100 meters in 9.58. I quite like the Dubai description of the disabled as “people of determination” acknowledging the hurdles that have to be overcome.
I remember serial wheelchair marathon winner, Jean Driscoll, telling me that a well-meaning person had once said to her: “I think it’s just wonderful that you can do a marathon”. Jean replied: “not really. I’m sure you could do a marathon too if you trained 4 hours a day six days a week like me!” The first point to understand when considering para athletics is that the reason that amputee, Irmgard Bensusan can run 200m in 26.93 or Lisa Adams (cerebral palsy) can throw a shot 14.80m or Omara Durand (blind) can run 400m, in 52.85, attached to a guide – is that they all train really hard.
Guohua Zhou of China won the F12 long jump with a leap of 4.92m. She stands at the start of her run up, composes herself, and sets off at full speed down the runway before taking off and jumping into the sand, landing nearly five meters away. Oh, there is one small detail that I forgot to mention. Zhou is totally blind. Imagine the courage it must take to launch yourself without being able to see where you’re going – talk about a leap in the dark! Someone lines her up and tells her when it is safe to go. A coach or assistant typically stands behind the sandpit shouting so that she can direct herself towards the sound. That helps. But it still requires courage to execute. It can go badly wrong. I recall once seeing a blind long jumper lose the direction, veer to the side and literally take out the no-jump judge as he sat on his chair!
These three pictures of Zhou and Asila Mirzayorova (Uzbekistan) illustrate the process. Yes, Yhou, can jump five meters because she trains hard and practices a lot – like any long jumper. But there is also an admirable determination and courage that is not required of the sighted long jumper.