Super humans! - Returning Paralympians hailed
JAMAICA'S Paralympians were hailed as super humans while being feted by government officials, sponsors and well-wishers in the VIP Lounge at the Norman Manley International Airport upon their return home yesterday.
The small contingent of 12, including javelin gold medal winner Alphanso Cunningham, team captain Tanto Campbell, as well as Sylvia Grant were also greeted by schoolchildren from Harbour View Primary where they signed autographs for the youngsters.
But amidst the mini-celebration the thoughts went back to the three Jamaican athletes who didn't get a chance to participate in London because of the quota system employed by the International Paralympics Council (IPC).
Javon Campbell, Toni Greaves, a newcomer who won the F54 javelin class at the US Trials in June, and Shane Hudson, who won a silver medal in the 400m at the Parapan-American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, last year, were left off the team after the Jamaican management was informed that only three athletes from the country would be allowed to participate in the Games.
This move has prompted reactions from the Jamaican administrators and the government in lobbying other countries to ensure this does not happen again.
Christopher Samuda, president of the Jamaica Paralympic Association (JPA), said several pledges were made and one of them is to have the quota system removed.
Said Samuda: "We pledged in having the system of automatic slots removed as it deprives, as we regrettably experienced in London, where some of our athletes where placed in the sun, though their performances were great and materially better than those who participated, they did not have an opportunity to shine."
He continued: "We pledge for inspired performances on the international scene not only in javelin and discus but archery, pistol shooting, wheelchair racing, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair basketball and of course the sprints, 100, 200, 400m, those gloried events for which we are celebrated.
"The Paralympics sprit of Jamaica, in next year and the years to come, take pride in non-traditional events in fulfilling our primary mandate and establishing our presence and dominance beyond track and field in international competition," Samuda added.
Natalie Neita-Headley, Minister with Responsibility for Sports, also weighed in on the issue and promised to work closely with the various lobby groups to have the quota system removed.
"As it relates to the IPC rules where some of you did not get to participate, this is something I will be working closely with our president to make sure that every single competent Paralympian gets a chance to participate," said Neita-Headley.
"The government has made sure that a proper welcome is extended to our National Heroes. We plan a national celebration on Heroes weekend for all our Olympians and Paralympians at the National Indoor Sports Centre."
Jamaica's lone medallist, 32-year-old Alphanso Cunningham, who won gold in the men's F52/53 javelin, was also in solidarity for his teammates who were barred from the Games.
"I knew I had to do my best and I was doing great things in training. I just came out and do it. Even though we are a small team we had big hearts and we can produce," said Cunningham, who also stated that Usain Bolt and company inspired them.
That inspiration saw Cunningham setting a new regional record with his throw of 21.84m, beating his previous best of 20.19m and well clear of Iran's Jokar Abdolreza, who was second with 20.72m and Mexico's Mauro Maximo de Jesus, who placed third with 20.14m.
Tahnida Nunes of sponsor Digicel, also welcomed home the team saying they had made Jamaica extremely proud.
"At Digicel we challenge ourselves everyday to unearth the extraordinary in ordinary people and I think you have taught us how to be extraordinary. The spirit of this team is excellent," said Nunes.
For Dennis Valdez of sponsors Newport Fersan Jamaica, he was there with the team during training camps and was right there basically on the field at the London Paralympics.
"I am very happy today to be with this team of super humans, I am so happy," Valdez reiterated.
"I was in London when the National Anthem played across the stadium and I was there when Alphanso threw his life best and is among the elite in Paralympic history and I was there when Sylvia reach the final and threw her season's best.
Nothing can replace the priceless pride they inspired with each throw and effort. I have been in Jamaica for five and a half years, I am not a Jamaican, but when I was in London, kids were approaching me for autographs, I tell you they are super heroes. I can tell you how proud I felt. You should never take them for granted," said Valdez.