Officials say Paralympic drop shows world catching up, not Canada failing

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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BEIJING Canadas medal total dipped at the 2008 Paralympics but team officials say that shows that the world is improving, not that Canadian talent is waning.

The Canadian Paralympic Committee may have been satisfied with the 50 medals, which included 19 gold, 10 silver and 21 bronze. But athletes and coaches warned the slip felt in Beijing could turn into a slide by the 2012 London Paralympics if new talent isnt identified and trained.

The team missed its goal of finishing among the top five countries. The 19 gold left Canada ranked seventh and the 50 medals 10th in the overall standings.

I dont think there is any concern the team is slipping backward, committee president Carla Qualtrough told a news conference Wednesday, the final day of the Games. I think theres interest in how the world is catching up and I think we have to respond to that.

We have been the forerunners for so long. Its good for the movement that is happening. We just have to keep going.

The Paralympics closed with a ceremony highlighted by dazzling fireworks, the melodious sound of bamboo flutes and 168 girls wearing tree crowns. The 91,000-seat National Stadium was filled inside while huge crowds gathered outside.

The same London bus that participated in the Olympic closing ceremonies last month drove into the Birds Nest again. The London 2012 handover also featured a female drummer pounding a funky beat and a group that featured both disabled and able-bodied dancers.

On behalf of all Canadians, I would like to congratulate our Paralympic athletes and coaches who have represented Canada so well on the world stage, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement. Your performances were exciting to watch and your dedication and commitment are an inspiration to all Canadians.

Canadians share a strong passion for sport from the playground to the podium. The values we learn from sport teamwork, discipline, and confidence are values that represent the very best of what it means to be Canadian.

Canadian athletes were led into the stadium by flag-bearer Paul Tingley of Halifax.

Tingley, 38, won Canadas first Paralympic gold in sailing with a victory in the one-person keelboat. He was shocked over being named flag-bear.

This team is so talented, said Tingley, who was told of his selection during a team pancake breakfast, complete with maple syrup. We have had such success and worked so hard. To be chosen from that field is very humbling and a great honour.

Canada didnt win any medals on the final day of competition. Clayton Gerein of Pilot Butte, Sask., was the top Canadian in the wheelchair marathon Wednesday with a sixth-place finish in the mens T52 race. Diane Roy of Hatley, Que., appeared headed for a medal but fell in the dying moments of the T54 race for eighth spot. Fencer Pierre Mainville of Saint-Colomban, Que., failed to advance out of the pool stage.

China steamrolled to the top of the overall standings, winning a staggering 211 medals, including 89 gold. With London hosting the next Paralympics, Britain collected 102 medals, 42 of them gold.

The U.S. took home 99 medals.

The 143-member Canadian team tumbled down the tables after finishing third overall at the last two Paralympics. Canadians won 72 medals, including 28 gold, at the 2004 Athens Games. Eight years ago in Sydney, Canada collected 96 medals, 38 of them gold.

The competition has intensified with each Paralympic Games, said chef de mission Debbie Low. Not only is the competition become more fierce, but the competitive field is becoming much deeper as more countries participate.

A record 147 countries and more than 4,000 athletes competed at the Beijing Paralympics.

Vancouver will host the 2010 Winter Paralympics where Canadas goal is to finish among the top three countries.

Some of Canadas best summer Paralympians wont be around in 2012.

Wheelchair racers Chantal Petitclerc of Montreal, whose five victories account for almost one-third of the countrys gold medals, and Dean Bergeron of St-Augustin-de Desmasures, Que., who won two gold and a bronze, are retiring.

Many players on both the mens and womens wheelchair basketball teams also played their last games.

What worries Peter Eriksson, Petitclercs coach, is that no one is ready to step in.

The greatness of the Canadian team was in 2000, said Eriksson. Since then it has slid. I think the whole program and the whole process has to be rebuilt so we can come up with new athletes and talent.

We dont have that right now. We have some talented athletes on the team but for them, it is going to take more than four years to reach the top.

One of the largest drops in medals came in the pool. Canadian swimmers won 23 medals, compared to 40 in Athens.

We were all surprised at how fast it was to win a medal, said Valerie GrandMaison of Montreal, who won six medals, including three gold. Even in my class you had to break a world record just to win bronze.

Its getting a lot more like able-bodied swimming in the sense we have to specialize in some events and we cant swim all the events.

Organizations: Canadian Paralympic Committee

Geographic location: Canada, BEIJING, London National Stadium Birds Nest Montreal Pilot Butte Sask. Hatley Saint-Colomban China Britain U.S. Sydney Vancouver St-Augustin-de Desmasures Athens

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