The 2004 Olympic Games in Athens came to an end last Sunday. But the Paralympic Games in Athens are about to follow on their heels, starting on the 17th of September. What are the hopes of the Czech Paralympic team?
The Olympic Games in Athens gave Czechs a new icon, Roman Sebrle. As the winner of the decathlon he has become a hero. His muscular effigy has even appeared on postage stamps. But while the Czech Paralympians have just as great a chance of making their mark in Athens this year, they probably won't become celebrities. The Czech Paralympic team will be represented by 69 sportsmen and sportswomen competing in seven different sports. Their hopes are high. Radka Kucirkova is the manager of the Czech Paralympic team.
"At summer Paralympic games in Sydney the Czech team gained 43 medals and the Czech Republic came 11th among all countries. We hope that we can reach an even better position. We hope for more medals but it is very difficult to say for sure. We have very strong athletes in athletics, swimming, cycling and archery. They have been preparing very hard for all 4 years because the Paralympics is the most important event for all athletes."
A paralympic swimmer Vojtech Franek is currently preparing for his second Paralympic Games. He is going to compete in the 50, 100, 200m freestyle and the 50m backstroke. He represented the Czech Republic in Sydney four years ago where he made it to the finals in two events. At the 2002 World Championship in Argentina he came in fifth overall. Despite all these achievements he keeps down to earth.
"I want to get into the finals again. Medals are too high for me I think."
We'll be crossing our fingers. Vojtech is a wheelchair user. His legs are paralysed and mobility of his trunk and hands is also restricted. He talks about his experiences, during his eight-year swimming career.
"Of course there is a difference. You can see it because the paralympics are in different sports and under different conditions but the principle is the same. To be a good athlete you must train very hard. It's important not to give up. If one can't succeed in a competition one has to stay patient. Because it takes a long time to be a good swimmer and a lot of training. If one is not patient and does not attend training it is hard to be good."
Vojtech is looking forward to competing and great atmosphere which, as he hopes, will be as great as at the Sydney games in 2000.
"The atmosphere during my swimming competitions was the same as for the people who were not disabled. The stadium was full of people. There were about 15 000 people."
The Czech Paralympic team is leaving for Athens on the 10th of September. Best of luck!
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