As Paralympics begin, athletes want progress after London 2012 success

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — At the 2012 London Paralympics, athletes competed in venues full of spectators who cheered from the first event to the last. Lines for tickets extended out the doors.

“Everybody in the crowd was legitimately excited,” said U.S. swimmer Brad Snyder, who won two gold medals in London. “It wasn’t production. It wasn’t any magic.”

London set a new standard for Paralympic attendance and organization. Four years later, concerns over budget problems and slow ticket sales have plagued the Rio Games. The athletes who will march in Wednesday night’s opening ceremony at historic Maracana Stadium said their performances won’t be affected, and they hope the new, higher profile of the Paralympics won’t be either.

“We want progress,” Snyder said. “We want to say that we’ve taken a step forward.”

Rio Paralympics organizers have seen an uptick in ticket sales in recent days, announcing Tuesday that 1.6 million tickets have been sold. Yet concerns about budget and lags in preparation linger. On Tuesday, workers still were paving parts of the plaza around the Olympic Tennis Centre in Rio’s Olympic Park.

“I don’t want the movement to plateau or become stagnant,” said U.S. wheelchair basketball player Desiree Miller, who also competed in London. “I want it to catch fire after Rio so by the time Tokyo comes around there’s not a person in the States or a person in the world that doesn’t know who a Paralympian is.”

Organizers in London, in the country that gave birth to the Paralympics after World War II, sold a record 2.7 million tickets. Miller said that during the 2012 Games, people on the streets of London knew who she was and what sport she played.

The spotlight followed her home to Wisconsin. Customers recognize her at the sporting goods store where she works.

“They’ll use the word Paralympian,” Miller said. “Just for the public to use that word is huge — that people know the difference.”

NBC, which broadcast six hours of coverage from the London Paralympics, is planning more than 70 hours of coverage on NBC, NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

“We see how much work we’re putting into it, but it’s nice for the rest of the world to see,” Irish cyclist Peter Ryan said.

Snyder said that if people tune in to the games and fans haven’t shown up to watch an event live, they might be more likely to change the channel.

London’s ticket sales surpassed the 2008 Beijing Games by almost 1 million.

When it was revealed in mid-August that only 300,000 tickets of the available 2.5 million for the Rio Games had been purchased, Greg Nugent, the brand, marketing and culture director for London 2012, launched an online crowdfunding campaign to raise money to send Brazilian children to the competition.

As of Tuesday, $200,000 has been donated, according to a post on the campaign site. American wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden, Coldplay and Prince Harry have been among the donors.

“For (kids) to see, ‘They’re in wheelchairs and they can do this. Or, they don’t have a leg and they do this, then I guess I can, too,'” said Abby Dunkin, who is on the U.S. wheelchair basketball team in Rio. “It’s more than just playing our game. It’s more about the movement and educating everyone outside.”

Canadian rower Andrew Todd said that while the Paralympics initially focused on participation, the event has shifted to have a stronger competitive spirit.

“The lay person’s perspective of Paralympics is, ‘Oh it’s great that people swim. That’s neat,'” Snyder said. “When you actually see it, you see how intense these athletes are. When you see how much a person with no legs can bench press or squat, it really is quite impressive.

“We’ve known all along the power of the Paralympic movement, but London was the first time it got shown to the community in a really big way, not only from a production standpoint, from a spectator standpoint.”

MORE: Paralympic broadcast schedule

LA 2028, Delta unveil first-of-its-kind emblems for Olympics, Paralympics

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Emblems for the 2028 Los Angeles Games that include logos of Delta Air Lines is the first integration of its kind in Olympic and Paralympic history.

Organizers released the latest set of emblems for the LA 2028 Olympics and Paralympics on Thursday, each with a Delta symbol occupying the “A” spot in LA 28.

Two years ago, the LA 2028 logo concept was unveiled with an ever-changing “A” that allowed for infinite possibilities. Many athletes already created their own logos, as has NBC.

“You can make your own,” LA28 chairperson Casey Wasserman said in 2020. “There’s not one way to represent Los Angeles, and there is strength in our diverse cultures. We have to represent the creativity and imagination of Los Angeles, the diversity of our community and the big dreams the Olympic and Paralympic Games provide.”

Also in 2020, Delta was announced as LA 2028’s inaugural founding partner. Becoming the first partner to have an integrated LA 2028 emblem was “extremely important for us,” said Emmakate Young, Delta’s managing director, brand marketing and sponsorships.

“It is a symbol of our partnership with LA, our commitment to the people there, as well as those who come through LA, and a commitment to the Olympics,” she said.

The ever-changing emblem succeeds an angelic bid logo unveiled in February 2016 when the city was going for the 2024 Games, along with the slogan, “Follow the Sun.” In July 2017, the IOC made a historic double awarding of the Olympics and Paralympics — to Paris for 2024 and Los Angeles for 2028.

The U.S. will host its first Olympics and Paralympics since 2002 (and first Summer Games since 1996), ending its longest drought between hosting the Games since the 28-year gap between 1932 and 1960.

Delta began an eight-year Olympic partnership in 2021, becoming the official airline of Team USA and the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Athletes flew to this year’s Winter Games in Beijing on chartered Delta flights and will do so for every Games through at least 2028.

Previously, Delta sponsored the last two Olympics held in the U.S. — the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

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Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record was the product of pain, rain

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When Eliud Kipchoge broke the marathon world record in Berlin on Sunday, he began his celebration near the finish line by doing the same thing he did upon breaking the record in Berlin four years earlier.

He hugged longtime coach Patrick Sang.

The embrace was brief. Not much was said. They shook hands, Kipchoge appeared to stop his watch and Sang wiped his pupil’s sweaty face off with a towel. Kipchoge continued on his congratulatory tour.

“It felt good,” Sang said by phone from his native Kenya on Thursday. “I told him, ‘I’m proud of you and what you have achieved today.'”

Later, they met again and reflected together on the 2:01:09 performance, chopping 30 seconds off his world record in 2018 in the German capital.

“I mentioned to him that probably it was slightly a little bit too fast in the beginning, in the first half,” Sang said of Kipchoge going out in 59 minutes, 51 seconds for the first 13.1 miles (a sub-two-hour pace he did not maintain in the final miles). “But he said he felt good.

“Besides that, I think it was just to appreciate the effort that he put in in training. Sometimes, if you don’t acknowledge that, then it looks like you’re only looking at the performance. We looked at the sacrifice.”

Sang thought about the abnormally wet season in southwestern Kenya, where Kipchoge logs his daily miles more than a mile above sea level.

“Sometimes he had to run in the rain,” said Sang, the 1992 Olympic 3000m steeplechase silver medalist. “Those are small things you reflect and say, it’s worth sacrificing sometimes. Taking the pain training, and it pays off.”

When Sang analyzes his athletes, he looks beyond times. He studies their faces.

The way Kipchoge carried himself in the months leading into Berlin — running at 6 a.m. “rain or shine,” Sang said — reminded the coach of the runner’s sunny disposition in the summer of 2019. On Oct. 12 of that year, Kipchoge clocked 1:59:40 in the Austrian capital in a non-record-eligible event (rather than a traditional race) to become the first person to cover 26.2 miles on foot in less than two hours.

Sang said he does not discuss time goals with his students — “Putting specific targets puts pressure on the athlete, and you can easily go the wrong direction,” he said.

In looking back on the race, there is some wonder whether Kipchoge’s plan was to see how long he could keep a pace of sub-two hours. Sang refused to speculate, but he was not surprised to see Kipchoge hit the halfway point 61 seconds faster than the pacers’ prescribed 60:50 at 13.1 miles.

“Having gone two hours in Monza [2:00:25 in a sub-two-hour attempt in 2017], having run the unofficial 1:59 and so many times 2:01, 2:02, 2:03, the potential was written all over,” Sang said. “So I mean, to think any differently would be really under underrating the potential. Of course, then adding on top of that the aspect of the mental strength. He has a unique one.”

Kipchoge slowed in the second half, but not significantly. He started out averaging about 2 minutes, 50 seconds per kilometer (equivalent to 13.2 miles per hour). He came down to 2:57 per kilometer near the end.

Regret is not in Kipchoge’s nature. We may never know the extent of his sub-two thoughts on Sunday. Sang noted that Kipchoge, whose marathon career began a decade ago after he failed to make the London Olympic team on the track, does not dwell on the past.

“If you talk to him now, he probably is telling you about tomorrow,” Sang joked.

The future is what is intriguing about Kipchoge. Approaching 38 years old, he continues to improve beyond peak age for almost every elite marathoner. Can Kipchoge go even faster? It would likely require a return next year to Berlin, whose pancake-flat roads produced the last eight men’s marathon world records. But Kipchoge also wants to run, and win, another prestigious fall marathon in New York City.

Sang can see the appeal of both options in 2023 and leaves the decision to Kipchoge and his management team.

‘If we can find the motivation for him, or he finds it within himself, that he believes he can still run for some time, for a cause, for a reason … I think the guy can still even do better than what he did in Berlin,” Sang said. “We are learning a lot about the possibilities of good performance at an advanced age. It’s an inspiration and should be an inspiration for anybody at any level.”

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