The 13th Paralymic Games was officially launched Saturday in Beijing by Chinese President Hu Jintao. Ranked 9th in the Athens Paralymics in 2004, the French delegation, with 121 athletes, aims to finish in the top ten.
Among the French athletes in this year's Paralympic Games are 82 men and 39 women, who will compete in tricolour uniforms and aspire to win 60 medals when the Games end on September 17. The French Committee has sure bets in track and field athletics with 26 athletes in the starting block, including Assia El Hannouni, the flag bearer at the opening ceremony. The quadruple medal holder in Athens – in the 100-, 200-, 400- and 800-metre sprints – hopes to renew her great performance in the National Stadium in Beijing.
The French fencing team, who did not win any golds in the Olympics in August, may redeem itself this time with Robert Citerne, the Paralympic champion in sabre, and Patricia Picot, triple Paralympic champion in foil. Seven other members may also contribute to the final medal counts for the team.
The French delegation may also find success in table tennis from its 26 athletes, including Gilles de la Bourdonnaye, the silver medallist in Athens. Only one French athlete will join the rowing competition, which makes its debut in the Beijing Paralympics, but it is still hoped Patrick Laureau will make a splash in the game.
Philippe Durand, trainer of the Paralympic weightlifting team, predicts that female athletes – including Athens medallists Carine Burgy and Souad Ghazouany – will have a chance to score some final victories. He said on FRANCE 24 that both women are ambitious and have been training hard for Beijing.
In other sports, Durand estimates that athletes will win medals in cycling, judo and tennis. China won the most medals in Greece and is expected to repeat its glory.
"Even if France is not the strong favourite, we certainly have the best delegation in years and that gives us really good hope," Durand explained a few days before the start of the Paralymics.
As in the Olympic Games last month, host nation China has sent the largest delegation to the Paralympics with 332 athletes. Already topping the chart in Athens with 141 medals – including 63 gold – the Chinese delegation hopes to crush the competition again on its home court.
The president of the French Paralympic Federation, Gerard Masson, has paid his homage to the French athletes. He said on FRANCE 24: "Our athletes are striving for the best and feel confident. They also feel strong pressuresbecause French Olympians had a great performance in the August Games with 40 medals. Our athletes want to win 60 medals – a challenging goal but not an impossible one. The International Paralympic Committee has reduced the number of competitions in Beijing. Remember, we won 74 medals four years ago."
Spirit, body and heart
For the first time since the launch of the official Paralympic Games in 1960, French Paralympians will receive the same monetary award as their Olympian counterparts. Each athlete will receive 2,000 euros for participation. For medallists: 13,000 euros for bronze, 20,000 euros for silver and 50,000 for gold.
In order to guarantee the equality of the competitions, Paralympic athletes are grouped according to their disabilities. In track and field athletics, for instance, athletes compete different races based on if they are blind, vision-impaired, amputees or wheel chair-bound.
The first official Paralympic Games were held in Rome in 48 years ago, parallel to the Summer Olympics. The object is to allow people with physical disabilities to reach their full sporting potential. This vision – embodied in the Games' motto of spirit, body and heart – has transformed the Paralympics into a great sporting event followed by people around the world.
Date created : 2008-09-08