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Donkin's World: The Only Race In Town

"Thereís only one race in town and thatís the human race,'' says Richard Donkin, then comes up with a great idea.

"What better way for companies to spend the money they might otherwise dish out in bonuses to their chief executives than in upgrading the Paralympians of less well off nations. Such a noble gesture could hardly be begrudged by top corporate teams.''

ďSo whatís wrong with this lot?Ē I ask, settling down in to the armchair. It challenges the best efforts to be PC when you switch on the TV in the middle of a Paralympics race.

Itís T37 Ė oh yes, of course, should have guessed. But I donít have my ďall you need to know about disability categoriesĒ crib sheet on my knee and frankly, guess as I might, itís not obvious.

ďTheyíve got cerebral palsy,Ē says Gill. Oh shit, yes, thatís bad, and once again I feel guilty for impure thoughts.

All I can see are two guys in front of the field looking fine physical specimens and Iím wondering how they can possibly claim a parking space on the front row at Tescos. In fact the whole field can run faster than I ever could. But I can see that some runners in the pack have clear disabilities. Thatís all right then.

I look down at the slab of flab overhanging my belt and wonder why that doesnít count. Unlike the Paralympians, who have overcome their disabilities to achieve sporting excellence, my self-inflicted impediment is only likely to grow more pronounced in the coming years. Thatís what I call irony.

On the other hand I might be inspired and uplifted enough by the Paralympic achievements to do something about it. Itís only flab for goodness sake and itís an insult to the achievements of our Paralympians to waste what my medical records would class, without a hint of a snigger, as an able body.

Iím enjoyed the Paralympics, especially when I didn't have to work too hard to understand the various categories of disability. Thatís probably why my favourite event was the wheelchair racing. In thsse events there was less of a grey area in categorising the competitors. And they were masters of their sport. You could stick an able bodied athlete in a racing chair and theyíd get hammered by the top wheelchair athletes. That David Weir Ė what a star.

I was struck by the way people adapt their disabilities to the requirements of a sport. Itís a neat trick, for example, the way the below-the joint amputee table tennis stars nestle the ping pong ball in the crook of their elbow when serving. And did you see the F42 menís high jump for above-the-knee amputees, won with a jump of 1.74m? I have two good legs and can barely hurdle our box privet hedge in the garden.

Some of the competitions didn't seem entirely fair to all but then lifeís not fair. Ask Oscar Pistorius. The great thing about the games was their inclusivity, even to the extent that the odd athlete was caught out for trying to cheat, because that once again underpins the normal rather than abnormal impulses of fiercely competitive people. Thereís only one race in town and thatís the human race.

The Paralympics are changing our views of disability and rightly so because they concentrate on ability. They show what can be achieved in adversity rather than highlighting pity and charity, two more common but less positive responses to disability.

But charity should not be ignored. One danger is that we see these Paralympians Ė who are physically tough and competitive people Ė and forget that many disabled people really do struggle with their disabilities. Not everyone can fall out of a wheelchair, as the basketball players do all the time, and bounce back up.

The games were a great success but thereís still much to do to improve the lot of people with disabilities. The sparse attendance of some poorer nations at the opening ceremony brought to our attention the many nations who cannot afford the best competition-standard wheelchairs and other kit. Thatís not right.

Here's an idea: what better way for companies to spend the money they might otherwise dish out in bonuses to their chief executives than in upgrading the Paralympians of less well off nations. Such a noble gesture could hardly be begrudged by top corporate teams.

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