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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 September, 2004, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Athens advances Paralympics
By Elizabeth Hudson
BBC Sport in Athens

China's athletes are already looking ahead to hosting the next Paralympic Games

There is no doubt the Athens Paralympics have been a resounding success on many levels.

Hosting the Games in a country where there is no tradition of disabled sport and, in some ways, a great ignorance of the needs of the disabled was a risk.

But the Greeks have risen magnificently to the challenge.

Yes, crowds have been smaller than in Sydney four years ago and there have been plenty of venues that were less than even half-full.

But many Greeks have tried to embrace the idea of the Games and the positive sociological effects they can bring to try to advance the cause from now on.

Each day, school children came to watch the Games, cheer on the athletes and also learn more about disabled sport.

Their loud noise has brightened up what would otherwise have been sparsely attended venues.

Their efforts became even more poignant after seven children died in an accident on their way to watch the Games.

As a mark of respect, organisers decided to cut down the entertainment section of the closing ceremony.

In sporting terms, the Games have also been a huge success.

Japan's Mayumi Narita celebrates her success in Athens
Japanese swimmer Narita was the most successful athlete winning seven golds and one bronze
Most competitors agree standards are rising all the time across many sports and new nations are emerging all the time.

Medals were won by 75 different nations - seven more than four years ago.

And 448 Paralympic and 304 world records were set across the 18 sports.

British Paralympic Association chief executive Phil Lane says the whole approach is becoming more professional worldwide.

"We've seen what countries like the Ukraine and Brazil have done here," Lane said.

"They are investing huge sums of money in preparation and some of the work going on is truly world class."

Some observers have suggested the classification system - which groups participants according to their level of disability - is confusing for spectators.

But the system forms an integral part of what Paralympic sport is all about.

Take it away and you would have athletes with different disabilities taking on each other, which would obviously be unfair.

"As in the Olympics, the key element to the classification system for television viewers is explanation," Carl Hicks, editor of BBC Television's Paralympic coverage, explains.

"It is no different to explaining sports like Judo and Tae Kwan Do which we covered during the Olympics, but it is absolutely necessary to keep people's interest."

It is impossible to change everyone's perceptions on the subject of disabled sport
Daily Telegraph journalist
Gareth A Davies
The issue of drugs - as at the Olympics - has also cast its shadow across the Paralympics.

There were seven positive tests out of the 600 or so carried out.

As sport becomes more and more professional, it is clear that even in disabled sport winning means everything to some and they will do whatever it takes to be the best.

Media interest in disability sport also remains something of a problem.

The worst example was the United States, where there was no television coverage of the Paralympics at all.

And while the Games were shown in Britain on the BBC, only a few national newspaper journalists made the trip to Athens - one of whom was Gareth A Davies of the Daily Telegraph.

"There is a big focus once every four years on the Paralympics," said Davies.

"It is impossible to change everyone's perceptions on the subject of disabled sport.

"But when it comes down to the ability of people to have their senses opened to the possibility of learning about it, then it's worth trying."

Paralympic Games 2004



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