Paralympics' future bright without Pistorius

ROB HARRIS
Last updated 06:57 20/02/2013
Jonnie Peacock
Reuters
NEW HERO: Paralympic boss Philip Craven says there are still plenty of Paralympians, such as London 100m champion Jonnie Peacock, who will ensure an exciting future for the movement.

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As Oscar Pistorius offered his first defence against a murder charge, the head of the Paralympics was trying to reassure members that the movement has a strong future even without its star athlete.

International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven said he has been in a state of "shock and disbelief" since Pistorius was charged with premeditated murder after shooting his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, last week.

Having been central to plans to maintain the momentum from the record-breaking Paralympics last year, Pistorius has now been forced to pull out of all future races.

The South African helped to generate unprecedented interest in disability sport by becoming the first double amputee sprinter to compete at the Olympics. Now Craven is acting quickly to ensure the Paralympics' progress is not damaged by the fallout from Pistorius' high-profile case.

"We've got so many stars coming through that this will not be an issue," Craven said.

"Even since this tragedy happened, it's still been 'London, London, London' and what happened there - a unique moment in times that still continues in the hearts and minds of people."

And in a letter to IPC members on Tuesday, Craven sought to shift attention from the "difficult and traumatic day" regarding Pistorius to remind how the London Paralympics succeeded in creating "a whole host of young world-class, medal-winning athletes."

Craven pointed to British sprinter Jonnie Peacock, who deposed Pistorius as 100-metre champion at the Paralympics, and Alan Oliveira, who took the 200 title in front of an 80,000-strong crowd in the London Olympic Stadium.

"It's upon their shoulders that the Paralympic movement will be moving forward and it's still continuing to be the most exciting times after London," Craven said in a telephone interview from the IPC winter sports championships in Spain.

Craven has experienced a "roller coaster of emotion" since being awoken with the news that Pistorius had shot his girlfriend dead in an incident the athlete claimed at a bail hearing was an accident after believing she was a robber.

"Shock and disbelief," Craven recalled of his initial thoughts. "I could not believe what I was hearing ... because of this total difference between Oscar, the person I knew - I won't say very well but I had interacted with him on many occasions in press conferences etc and seen him compete - and the Oscar we were hearing about now in the media and with what happened."

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Craven said he had not witnessed any change in Pistorius' mindset at the Paralympics even when the runner created a storm by suggesting rival Oliveira was gaining an unfair advantage by using lengthened blades.

"In the heat of competition - I remember when I was a wheelchair basketball player - the redness would come down particularly if I didn't agree with certain refereeing decisions, and I've seen it in other athletes," Craven said. "I think it's something that happens all the time in athletic competitions.

"It (the blades' row) didn't bother me at all, and didn't make me think there was anything different in London (with Pistorius) to what there had been before."

Craven has not made contact with the 26-year-old Pistorius since the Valentine's Day arrest that stunned the world.

The Paralympic chief, though, has expressed the organisation's condolences to the family of Steenkamp, the model and law graduate who was cremated at a memorial service in the south-coast port city of Port Elizabeth on Tuesday.

- AP

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