Those of us who are blind or have low vision would like a chance to participate, too, which is why I support the Blind Olympics. Here are a few highlights from the last games of this lesser-known event:
The highly-anticipated match between the French singles champion and the British underdog drew record crowds, who cheered loudly for the French champion as he came within mere feet of hitting the tennis ball. His British counterpart fared less well, running into the net while attempting to return a serve and finally getting tangled in the mesh and bringing the entire apparatus crashing down. Points were awarded, however, for the astounding accuracy shown while he attempted to disentangle himself and, still swinging his racket, scored a direct hit on his opponent’s head.
The team from Kenya took the gold with their amazing performance in this event. As fans of the event know, blind pole-vaulting is scored by averaging how far each vaulter is from the bar at his highest point and awarding the medal to the team that averages the closest to the bar. Kenya placed first with two vaulters skimming high a few yards to the left of the bar, two flying low and to the right, and one flinging himself right into the bar in what must have been a heart-breaking turn of events for second-place Japan. Medics at the event pronounced the last vaulter bruised but essentially unharmed, but speculation is that his vision may actually have improved as a result of the impact, leading commentators to wonder if he would be eligible to return for the next Blind Olympics. His many supporters can only wait and hope for his vision not to return.
This first attempt at including soccer in the Blind Olympics ended not with a bang, but a whimper as Germany won the toss and took a dominant position early on, until an unfortunate kick sent the ball to a location none of the players could find. Sighted referees eventually had to locate the ball after every play and stand beside the ball shouting so that the players would know where to go. Sadly for the referees, the players did not always land their kicks on the ball, and more than one referee ended up limping off the field with a nasty bruise on his shin. The game ended with no scores on either side when the supply of referees had been exhausted.
Blind shot put
The most highly-anticipated event of the Blind Olympics, blind shot put, drew to a nail-biting conclusion when the Belgian front-runner and his Australian rival each entered the last round having caused 4 concussions and 18 broken bones. A simple nosebleed could determine who received the gold and who went home with the silver.
The Belgian contender aimed carefully at the noisiest section of the audience, then threw. The sound of a crack! and a shriek of agony brought loud cheers from the Belgian supporters. The injury was determined to be a broken collarbone, a painful but nonfatal injury earning the Belgian a nearly-unbeatable finish.
The Australian, visibly nervous, was initially unsure where to aim due to the numerous audience members all shouting and screaming, but then settled on a location and made his throw. Incredibly, the impact was greeted with not one but two screams of pain, determined finally to be a 5th concussion and a shattered kneecap from the ricochet, catapulting the Australian into first place and winning him the gold.
It takes guts to compete in the Blind Olympics. It takes a high pain tolerance and good health insurance to be in the audience for the Blind Olympics. It may take clinical insanity to be in the audience during Blind Shot Put. But you must admit: it’s anything but boring!