The Paralympics - another shot at gold

LET'S face it. As Malaysians, we love sports. It's one of the few things that unites all Malaysians these days; this was clear during the Olympics as we cheered on the winners of our four silver medals and one bronze medal - Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong, Azizulhasni Awang, Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying, Cheong Jun Hoong and Pandelela Rinong and Datuk Lee Chong Wei.

Regardless of our race or religion, we all cheered them on when they left for Rio, we cheered them on as they tried their best to seize gold medals and we came out in large numbers to celebrate when they came home with their silver and bronze medals draped around their necks.

At this point I will ask, though - how many of us cheered on our Paralympians when they left for Rio just over a week ago.

How many among us are aware the 2016 Paralympics begins today? How many of us see these 11 days - Sept 7 to Sept 18 -  as our second shot at international glory, Malaysia's second shot at a gold medal - or perhaps medals?

I know for a fact we're more aware of them now, as many of us took to social media to share photos and videos of  100m T36 (cerebal palsy) runner Mohd Ridzuan Mohd Puzi's 2015 win at the  IPC World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar in an effort to call for equal incentives and equal respect for him and our other Paralympics athletes - and that was certainly heartwarming as he's our strongest shot at a gold medal from Rio.

However, Mohd Ridzuan is not alone. We have a whole contingent of potential medal-winners, some of whom brought back silver and bronze medals when they competed in the London Paralympics in 2012. We have athletes like W1 recurve archer Hasihin Sanawi who brought back a silver medal in this category when he went to the London Paralympics. He's another shot at a gold medal for Malaysia.

There's also Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli, who brought back a T20 shot put bronze medal from London. He's also part of our contingent, and another medal hopeful.

And they are not the only medal-winning potentials. We also have Abdul Latif Romly, who won a gold medal in the T20 (learning problem/intellectual disability) long jump at Doha, setting a new championship record of 7.35 metres which he improved at the 2016 Malaysia Para Games in Sarawak when he made a 7.46 metre long jump.

Indeed, Abdul Latif told Bernama that he could very well set a world record at Rio.

"I only need to correct my jumping technique. Hopefully, I can achieve my target to win the gold medal in Rio and break the world record," he was reported saying.

So yes - counting the names - that's four potential medal winners, including two medal-winning veterans of the 2012 London Paralympics. And if we count athletes like sprinter Krishna Kumar Hari Das who won gold medals in the 100m T38, 200m T38 and 400m T38 events at 8th Asean Para Games in Singapore last year, we have more potential medal winners in our team.

There is hope for gold - and they need our support. They need our continued support because it is this support that will remind the powers-that-be to continue delivering on their promise to give our Paralympics medal winners the same incentives and support as our Olympics medal winners.

Indeed, Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin took note of the buzz on social media regarding Ridzuan a few weeks ago and thanked Malaysian netizens for their support, saying in a Facebook post on Aug 28; "Please support them in the upcoming Games. They are extraordinary and I am confident that they will create extraordinary history in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio."

Since then, Khairy has repeated the pledge he made when he took up the Youth and Sports portfolio in 2013 - that Paralympics medal winners would get the same incentives as their Olympics counterpart - and this is in large part due to public attention, support and perhaps even pressure.

So yes, we need to keep up the heat. We need to keep up the support for our Paralympics contingent in Rio; a contingent striving to prove that "sport doesn't care where you're from; if you're a man or a woman, tall, thin, big or short. Sport doesn't care how you got here, how much money you make, what you believe in or not. It doesn't care if you have two legs, one leg or wheels. Sport only cares that you're here to take part and give your all to win," to quote a Samsung ad from the 2012 Paralympics.

Because at the end of the day, they're our sporting heroes too.

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