Paralympians given heroes' welcome
Wed, 12 Sep 2012 3:06p.m.
By Will Pollard
Friends, family and fans gathered to welcome home members of the New Zealand Paralympic team at Auckland International Airport today.
More than 40 athletes and staff arrived back today, but it was clear 19-year-old swimmer Sophie Pascoe was the crowd favourite.
Pascoe won six medals in the pool at the 2012 Games – three gold and three silver – to add to the four she won in Beijing four years ago.
Dr Huhana Hickey, from Auckland Disability Law Services, was front row to welcome home the athletes and says Pascoe is especially talented.
“I’m here to see all of them but Sophie in particular,” says Dr Hickey.
“She did very well, we all can be proud of her, she really led the team and did it beautifully.”
Dr Hickey watched Pascoe at the last Games, where she became New Zealand’s youngest ever Paralympian at 15, and expects we’ll continue to see her for years to come.
Pascoe ‘world class’
“She is world class,” says Dr Hickey, “she could even do it outside of the para-sports I believe”.
Pascoe says the support shown to the New Zealand team today was “amazing”.
The Christchurch swimmer made time for her younger fans in particular, who she says are the future of Paralympic sport.
“Just seeing kids like that looking up to people like me to inspire them – I think that’s what we need,” she says.
“These guys here will be looking towards 2020 and that’s what we need – more athletes to get involved.”
After two months of intense pressure, Pascoe says she will need time to reflect on her achievements.
“Hasn’t actually really sunk in, what I’ve achieved yet – probably won’t for a few more days until I actually finally just have some down time.”
Another Kiwi to find success in the pool was Wellington’s Mary Fisher.
She finished the games with a full set of medals after winning bronze in the S11 50m freestyle, silvers in the S11 100m backstroke and S11 100m freestyle, and gold in SM11 200m individual medley.
Fisher reflects on world record
Fisher, 19, says she owes her four medals to those who supported her along the way.
“I’m just really glad for everyone who helped me get to that point – I couldn’t have done it without them,” she says.
“My goal was to swim my absolute hardest in every single race, and then on the last day, at the final event, to break a world record and get a gold medal – it was so, so special.”
The New Zealand team won 17 medals overall in London – six more than in Beijing – and the Games were the most successful to date.
Pascoe says she has never seen such a high level of public interest in the event.
“It was a sell-out crowd every time I was in the pool,” she says.
“To walk out into an atmosphere that was just so hyped up about cheering on Paralympic athletes is amazing, and to have a sell-out crowd – we’ve never had that at Paralympic sports before. I think Great Britain’s done a really great job.”
Stacey Roche, Halberg Trust disability sport co-ordinator for Waitakere, says New Zealand’s success came from having the right systems in place.
“Sport development is at its highest point now and you know we’ve got infrastructure and coaching and sport development,” she says.
“We’re really a lot more professional than in previous years.”
Coverage of Games disappointing, says rep
But despite success at the Games, Ms Roche says it’s a shame New Zealand fans had limited options in media coverage.
“In the general media it was quite hard to find stuff – we have a lot more work to do in getting it into the sports news instead of the general interest news, because this is real sport.”
A sentiment shared by Pascoe, who says Paralympic athletes train just as hard as those in the Olympic Games.
“We’re elite athletes and we train exactly the same as the able-bodies,” she says.
“And as you can see by the outcome of 17 medals in the Paralympics New Zealand team, it’s incredible – we’re just on an equal par with anyone.”
And for those who are watching, the good news is that Pascoe is already planning to be back for the Rio de Jainero Paralympic Games in 2016.
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12/09/2012 11:17:20 p.m.
Matt J wrote:
Well done to the NZ Paralympians. Did us all really proud. I have to agree though with Ms Roche. the NZ mainstream broadcasters were woeful in not carrying any live coverage of the games. This was the 1st sold out Paralympics in the history of the games. 2.8m tickets were presold. Why on earth TVNZ or TV3 or even Prime didn't think this a worthy enough event to provide live coverage for is beyond me. Having been lucky enough to be in the Olympic Stadium last Saturday experiencing the atmsophere of 80,000 cheering on Paralyimpians you get the feeling NZ broadcasters missed a trick there.
12/09/2012 8:27:51 p.m.
You've all done us proud.
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