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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 September, 2004, 20:29 GMT 21:29 UK
Playing the exhibition game

By Tanni Grey Thompson
Nine-time Paralympic gold medallist

Canadian wheelchair racer Jeff Adams is one of those athletes who can be arrogant (he'd probably admit to that one), sometimes loud and probably a pain in the neck, but I like him.

He's not afraid to say what he thinks, and is passionate about sport, cares about other athletes (although he may not admit it) and listens and passes on advice.

He stood out at his first Paralympics for having a maple leaf shaved into his head, and has stood out ever since.

But he is tired of fighting the system.

Canadian wheelchair racer Jeff Adams
Adams suffered a disappointing time in Athens

Like me, he competed at the Olympic exhibition event in Athens last month, but he crashed during the race, wrecking his $3,000 chair.

The exhibition race has a strange position within the Olympics because it has not got full medal status and if you win a medal it doesn't count towards your nation's overall total.

We are there, as the name suggests, to 'exhibit' what we can do.

I, like most of the other wheelchair athletes, didn't receive full athlete accreditation (known as Aa) but had 'P' status, which is for those who are reserve athletes.

When the three Canadians made it through their trials to get to the Olympics, the Canadian Olympic Committee supported them.

They housed them, kitted them out, and, to the amusement of Jeff, they had the elusive Aa status - he joked that he wasn't going to talk to me because I was only a 'P'

However, in Canada his family had to wait nine hours after the race finished, until the early hours of the morning, for it to be shown on TV.

We can have the Paralympics and also use the Olympics to exhibit what we do

If Jeff's crash during the race had been on a bike, it would have been shown 20 times.

It's probably not fair to compare his performance with that of his compatriot Perdita Felicien, who fell in the 100m hurdles final, but her race was shown again and again all over the world.

It is not as if wheelchair racing doesn't have a good profile in Canada. Chantal Petitclerc, who won the women's race is one of Quebec's Lotto presenters, and Jeff is no shrinking violet.

When he was turned out of a restaurant for being a 'fire hazard' he decided that he would climb the 1776 steps of Toronto's CN Tower in his chair.

Is Jeff's story any less compelling than Felicien's and that was why it was nine hours late?

Or is it because the medals that were won on the track didn't count to the nations total and therefore didn't matter? I don't know the answer.

Perdita Felicien
Perdita Felicien crashed out of the 100m hurdles final

The issue of whether we have full medal status or not clouds the issue.

The Paralympics is an important brand in its own right, and we can have that AND use the Olympics to 'exhibit' what we do.

I don't care that the medals don't officially count. There were two great races, and in Britain, where the races were shown on the BBC, we did show what we can do.

The final straw for Jeff was on the day he left the village when his Aa status was taken away from him and he was issued with new accreditation that gave him P status.

It was decided that this was not a fight his team wanted to get involved in.

He could deal with everything else, but being told that he wasn't an 'athlete' was when he lost his will to fight.



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