Paralympic Sport

Dear Oscar,

watching the current paralympic games in Rio is, as we could expect, a weird and bitter-sweet experience: it’s the first edition without you, so, while I rejoice in the success of the winning athletes (especially the Italian ones 😉 ) and share the disappointment of those who, despite their greatest efforts, didn’t make it, I can’t help thinking and feeling that something really important is missing. That something is of course you and to sadden me and all those who have strongly supported you in the past Paralympic and Olympic games, is not just your absence, but the tragedy behind that and the disgusting way you’ve been treated since the very first moments of it, when nobody knew the truth, yet fabrications and lies began to appear everywhere.

It seems that this hounding has found a new paradoxical form in the way many journalists comment the Paralympic races in Rio, accurately avoiding to utter your name or mentioning it, just when they believe there’s a chance that the records you’ve set would be broken and the Para sport will have a new iconic star, a new ambassador to carry its fame all around the world. On a hand I would say that this is highly desirable and I’m sure this is precisely what you’ve worked for and aimed at: a movement, an epoch-making change bound to continue even when you would have retired from competitions. But, on the other hand, we cannot (and will never be able) to speak about paralympic sport without thinking of the amazing and paramount role you’ve had in it.

To give an example (and honestly I can’t tell whether and how fitting it is), it’s like a man who plants seeds: in a few years- or decades- those seeds will grow into a lush forest, and the trees in it will stand much taller and stronger than the sower who has planted them, but without that man, the forest wouldn’t exist and the soil would be desert or barely covered by a scrubby vegetation.

This is precisely what you’ve been in my view for the world of paralympic sport and, in more general terms, for the perception of disability all around the world: a revolutionary, a trailblazer, a pioneer, besides, obviously, a great athlete.

I’ve recently seen a campaign on Facebook whose purpose is to remind people of your athletic value (and I must say I felt more than impressed, literally speechless, scanning the number of medals you’ve won and the number of records you’ve set in your career), but, while I agree with the caption that has been chosen- the greatest Paralympian of all times- I believe that records and medals don’t describe adequately the immense legacy you’ve left behind you. However sad it may appear, records are to be smashed and times to be improved, the fame of an ace is to be overshadowed by someone greater one day, but the inspiring role you’ve played for common people and for new athletes encouraging them to take challenges in an attempt to overcome their limits will stand much longer, maybe forever, regardless of whether those who were inspired by your example have the honesty and the courage to credit it to you (as the new T43 record holder for 200 and 400 meters, New Zealander Liam Malone did), or they prefer to hide in a comfortable and more diplomatic silence.

To go with this message, I chose a striking (maybe the most meaningful) picture from the 21st Olympic games (Montreal, 1976); a very young Romanian gymnast scored a “perfect ten”, a result that no one had ever achieved before and that the monitor was not designed to display, as to imply that perfection or greatness most of the times are immeasurable, because, as Kant said in his explanation of the “mathematical sublime” any number, any quantity, no matter how big, is too small, too irrelevant, too inadequate to express its concept. This is the extent of your legacy, a legacy that cannot be measured by seconds or by the number of golden medals in a prizes list, and therefore stands like a “record” (even if this sounds as a rather unusual and certainly inappropriate definition) that cannot be broken.

Much love as ever,

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