Thursday, 19 January 2012

Paralympic Posters

London is starting to buzz about the Olympics. Well, it has been for a while, but now the buzzing is really loud. I know some folks who have tickets, sure. But now it turns out I also know a few people who are already working for them in some capacity, whether volunteering as crowd control, staffing and catering for their parties and events, helping to build and finish the stadiums, planning the opening ceremony... meanwhile I still don’t have a job… no, no, it’s fine, I just need a moment.

None of them will tell me a damn thing about the opening cermony, obviously. They say they don’t even know, but that’s exactly what they’d say if they did even know!

Yep, money is going to shower down on this city like gold from a rainbow. Then we’re back to being screwed – except no, because that’s when we get my favourite part of the Olympics. The PARALYMPICS!

Hopefully the least offensive possible combination of shapes and colors

After the click let's find out more!

The Olympics are impressive, don’t get me wrong. All the athletes should certainly be immeasurably proud of all their achievements, and I’m sure each one has their own stories – difficult victories, crushing defeats, triumph snatched from failure, support and sacrifices, the endless, endless training. But the Paralympic athletes have all that too. Plus they look like THIS:

And they say men can’t multitask. I have never known awesome until this moment

You may have noticed these posters around. They’re incredible promotional posters from McCann Worldgroup, starring the illustrations of Hello Von.

Before I start talking about disability in sports, a disclaimer: I do try to be sensitive, I’ve read many articles and I’m not going to make any cheap jokes or even use the word... uh… ‘cyborg’. The jokes will be classy and at the very least, ‘cyborg’ will just be heavily implied. I know this is a charged topic, with many views on all sides. We’ll get to that. I am not an asshole who’ll just laugh off the Paralympics. Some people hate the Olympics altogether and this along with it, which is petty shrewishness, but at least it’s non-discriminatory. Some people think the Paralympics and Olympics should combine, which is actually our topic here today.

For a while this seemed like an entirely valid option because of the athletic prowess of so many disabled athletes, such as Oscar Pistorius. He uses similarly designed legs as this guy:

Okay, but just for now look at the legs

Those bendy bits? The feet? They’re custom-made carbon-fibre ‘Cheetah’ prosthetic components, the sprinter’s prosthetic of choice, capable of supporting 147kg and returning 90% of the stored energy. They’re from Ă–ssur, international provider of prosthetic parts designed with the most modern techniques and materials. Look at him, he looks supersonic. He’s going so fast he needs goggles!

These feet have sparked years of debate about whether they’re an unfair advantage. For nearly a decade they were used to compete against ‘able-bodied’ people in less famous settings. Then Pistorius won silver in a race in Rome 2007 when every other runner had natural legs, and everyone started paying attention. They even compared him to Jesse Owens. Are the carbon-fibre feet unfair? According to the International Association of Athletics Federations, the answer is ‘yes’.

The amputees apparently have an advantage so immense that it’s no longer fair on the natural-limbed runners. Those artificial limbs are better than the squishy meat-sticks you slime around with. If you watch the able-bodied Olympics, you are watching the obsolete. The dinosaurs. The old-fashioned losers. You want to see faster races, more exciting competition, more fascinating sports-physics and statistics and incredibly capable athletes using more and more cutting-edge technology? The Paralympics are for you.

Look at this:

It’s so awesome! I can’t believe my eyes! … Oh! Uh, sorry

Yes, she’s blind and a martial artist. It could also be referring solely to the woman being thrown to the mat, in which case that’s not awesome (the police have explained to me, every single time, that tackling blind women to the ground is not an acceptable activity, apparently). But they’re probably both blind, I guess, or at least partially sighted. That makes more sense. But it’s still awesome! This whole time, haven’t we all been thinking: she’s Daredevil! She’s so cool! She’s a SUPERHERO!! I mean yeah, normal martial arts displays, competitions and lessons are all cool too. But compared to her?

Why don’t we know more about disability in sports? Every single one of these sounds much more aweso-

…. Oh. Oh dear

No, no, I’m sure equestrian sports are cool too. I mean, we’ve been looking at people who can handle playing basketball while driving a chair, blind people with such amazing hearing, kinesthesis and spatial awareness than they can win a martial arts tournament, and runners with machine-made legs making non-amputees obsolete. But no, making a horse dance is pretty awesome too. I guess. In your stuffy jacket and velvet hat.

Wait, I tried riding horses a couple of times back when I was a cowboy (well, okay, a child) and I learned two things on my first day: horses are horribly terrifying, and most of the control comes from your legs and the stirrups and stuff. It’s probably even more important when you’re making the horse perform intricate dance steps while pretending that you’re not. It’s a subtle language of muscle-movement: twitches and pressure in your feet, ankles, calves and thighs. Grade 1 and 2 of the Equestrian events are often amputees. A prosthetic can’t emulate that subtle language of near-telepathy. So yeah, that’s pretty damn impossible! Hell, dance on, you velvet-domed star! Rock that horsey dance floor!


Woah! WOAH! What the hell? Okay, that was a bit of a leap. The last one was about horses and dancing. There was probably tea and cake. It couldn’t be further from this new vision of… I don’t even know. For a start he looks like a damn bird of prey. A bird of prey with a human’s intelligence and a bull’s strength. As for the wheelchair, can it even be called a wheelchair anymore? It doesn’t look like a chair to me! It looks like a chariot! That spindle thing on top of the front wheel might be used for steering around the track bends, but for this guy steering is not an issue. You can see it in his eyes. Nothing stays in his way for long. He doesn’t even need to steer around the track – the track steers around him!

Also, a 400 meter chariot-assisted sprint? Impressive. Just let that idea swirl around your mind for a while. Savour the mental bouquet. It’s good, isn’t it? Tell me again about the Olympic event you were hoping to get tickets for. Doesn’t it suck in comparison? Hell, we don’t even need the Olympics anymore!

400 meters in 46 seconds? Incredibly impressive. The current world record for ‘able-bodied’ 400 meters is 43.18 from Michael Johnson. Oscar Pistorius holds the Paralympic record for 400 meters with 45.07 seconds. That’s nearly 9 meters per second on average, but they’re slowing down on turns and accelerating on the straights. If the guy in the chariot wanted to get you – running you down and mincing your face, brains and eyeballs with his space-age spokes – he could power through a mile in three minutes until he got to you like a legless Juggernaut. Your best bet is to escape uphill, but look at him. Even the landscape probably bows to his whim. He’d be smashing aside cars, walls and buildings while letting out the piercing, terrifying cries of an eagle mixed with the ferocious bellow of a rhinoceros. He doesn’t need legs. Legs would just slow him down!

I’m sure that many athletes in the Paralympics would probably hate to be thought of as superior just because they’re disabled. In a way it means they’re still being defined by their condition; positive discrimination and all that. They’re Olympic athletes, which means they’re a proud old bunch. So instead, let’s think of it like this: because of a part of their identity, letting them win is too dangerous. Can we therefore relate this Jesse Owens? Probably not but I'm going to anyway!

“Why, lieutenant Dan! Magic legs!” It’s that innocent Tom Hanks amazement we all share

I want to see Oscar Pistorius train to race Usain Bolt. I don’t even really care about the race itself, but the training would be intense. The race itself? Oh wait, I totally do care! It would be epic! Pistorius is a white South African, too, in case this wasn’t controversial enough already. We could put it on Pay Per View or something.

But as far as unifying with the Olympics goes? To hell those able-bodied losers. In a few years they’ll be cutting off their own legs for superior prosthetic designs. They’ll come begging on all fours to be in the Paralympics.

Uh, I mean… aw, nuts.


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