Getty Images

Rio Paralympic attendance surpasses some Olympic crowd sizes

Leave a comment

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Three weeks ago, organizers and event fans were worried that the 2016 Paralympics would not be well-attended. But when Sao Paulo resident Marco Fumis arrived at a lively Olympic Park on Saturday, he was blown away with what he saw.

“I’m positively surprised by this,” said Fumis. “We are really emotional people, and I think we realized how important it is for not only the Olympics but the Paralympics. A lot of us are here to better understand how these athletes do what they do, so we’re here to support.”

The fan support is significant. The 170,000 tickets sold for events at Olympic Park on Saturday, surpassed the one-day total for some days at recent Olympics.

“It was a really, really cool environment because usually we have like five people in the stands and now we have an entire gym,” U.S women’s sitting volleyball player Heather Erickson said after her team swept Iran 3-0.

On Sunday, 46,000 tickets were sold at Olympic Stadium, the track and field venue separate from Olympic Park, according to the International Paralympic Committee.

“Everybody wanted to talk about `What about London?”‘ IPC spokesman Craig Spence said, referring to the 2012 London Paralympics, for which a record 2.7 million tickets were sold. “But (Saturday) surpassed it for me.”

A last-minute campaign that originated in Great Britain, called #FillTheSeats and supported by donors such as Coldplay, Prince Harry and U.S. Paralympian Tatyana McFadden, boosted sales for tickets given to Brazilian children.

Brazilians can buy tickets for as low as 10 reais (about $3) and pay for them on a four-month plan (2.5 reais per month), Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada said.

“We have a lot of things that are hard for us, the sports brings us feelings of hope,” said Sofia Borges, a Rio 2016 volunteer and Sao Paulo native. “It brings hope to families and kids, and it’s also nice to see other sports than soccer.”

Total ticket sales now sit at 1,863,000, the second-highest Paralympic Games total ever, behind London. Spence admitted that the expectations were low but he said he’s overjoyed at how well the games have come together.

“We’ve got full venues, the athletes are loving it and the performance levels are what we expected,” Spence said. “We said coming in this would be the best Paralympic Games in terms of athletic performance and they’re clearly proving so.”

Indeed, coming into Sunday, 89 world records had been broken.

While Brazilians cheer hardest for Brazilian athletes, others have noticed the emotion that the fans have brought to the games.

“I think that we gain energy off of the crowd,” U.S. women’s sitting volleyball coach Bill Hamiter said. “It doesn’t matter how many people, we were just gaining energy off of them.”

Andrada described a scene that he felt embodied the spirit of the fans. When the Algerian women’s sitting volleyball team was a no-show in its first match against the U.S. on Friday, officials invited children onto the court to play. The crowd stayed to cheer on the children.

“They could have gone, there weren’t any high-ranking athletes playing; only children,” said Andrada. “But 8,000 people decided to stay and cheer on the kids as they learned the sport.”

The IPC will continue to try raise the profile of para sports between Paralympics. Brazil will host the 2017 Parapan American Youth Games, at a new facility in Sao Paulo. Construction for the Rio 2016 museum will be underway soon, and the IPC is producing a Paralympic Rio 2016 film.

As for current media, 154 countries are broadcasting the games worldwide, a 39-country upgrade from 2012, according to the IPC.

While these are record numbers, Sao Paulo resident Cristina Fumis, who attended events at Olympic Park over the weekend, said she believes that the media exposure can be better.

“The announcement for the opening ceremony was not on the front page, only a small section in the back,” said Fumis of how a Sao Paulo newspaper covered the Paralympics opening ceremony. “I think the media is powerful in the way that it can change the mindset of the population.”

While Spence is excited about ticket sales greatly exceeding expectations, he knows that preparation is key for maximizing potential.

“We’ve sold about 1.5 million tickets in the last three weeks, and that’s because we did a real big push on tickets,” said Spence. “Had we done this push a lot earlier, I know we could have sold out these games.”

MORE: Rio Paralympics broadcast schedule

2021 Burton U.S. Open snowboarding event canceled

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Burton U.S. Open, snowboarding’s most storied event, canceled its 2021 competition due to uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“The truth is, we just can’t be sure it will be safe from a public health standpoint for us to host the event in 2021,” a statement read.

The U.S. Open, held since 1982, is usually around the first weekend in March, making it the season-ending event for many riders. Halfpipe champions include Shaun WhiteChloe KimKelly Clark and Ross Powers, who also earned Olympic gold medals.

Other 2020-21 winter sports events affected by the coronavirus pandemic include figure skating’s Junior Grand Prix. The first two stops of that eight-event series, scheduled for late August and early September in Canada and Slovakia, have been canceled.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation, which is due to put on the February 2021 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, made a formal request on Monday to postpone the event until March 2022, one month after the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. The International Ski Federation (FIS) council will decide July 1.

MORE: Takeaways from abbreviated 2019-20 winter sports season

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Kara Eaker eschews fear, back on balance beam to resume Olympic quest

Kara Eaker
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kara Eaker hasn’t qualified for an Olympics yet, but she is already part of a historic club of U.S. gymnasts. The list goes, most recently, Eaker, Simone BilesKyla RossAly RaismanNastia LiukinShawn JohnsonShannon Miller and Dominique Dawes.

Those are the women who qualified for back-to-back balance beam finals at the sport’s highest level: Olympics or world championships. For Eaker (pronounced like acre), they came in her first two years as a senior gymnast in 2018 and 2019 (Biles and Johnson are the only other U.S. women to do that in the last 25 years.)

This was supposed to be Eaker’s Olympic year, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Games to 2021, after her Missouri high school graduation. It also kept her out of the gym for nearly two months until the GAGE Center reopened last week in Blue Springs, near Kansas City.

It was the longest Eaker had been off a regulation beam (and out of the gym) since she could remember. She began competing at age 5.

Eaker’s mom, Katherine, said her daughter never feared the four-inch-wide beam, but Eaker said the thought of returning last week “was definitely kind of scary at first.” That is, until one of her coaches eased her back with basics and work on a floor beam, one that’s not raised as high as the four feet you see in competition.

“By the time we were ready, and she was comfortable putting us back up there, it wasn’t scary,” Eaker said. “It felt normal.”

Eaker, adopted from a Chinese orphanage around age 1 in 2003 (her parents’ travel then delayed by SARS), excels on the senior elite stage with a level of normalcy.

Which is not entirely normal in this sport. She lives with her family, 10 minutes from her world-class gym. She still attends regular high school. She’s committed to continue gymnastics at the University of Utah after the Tokyo Olympics.

“I started out in dance, actually,” said Eaker, whose hobbies include robotics and calligraphy. “A little, little girl with the stuffed animal, twirling around in the dance room. And then we had our little recital and I just wasn’t … I couldn’t do the standing in front of an audience kind of thing.”

Her mom believes it was around Christmas. Eaker was 3 or 4.

“She just froze like a deer in the headlights, and all the other girls froze, too, because they were used to following her,” Katherine said. “Then she tried gymnastics. We had to drag her out [of the gym]. From then on, it was always, she’s first one in, last one out. Still is.”

The family, including Eaker’s father, Mark, retired Navy and a flight engineer, and younger sister, Sara, moved three times within Missouri in part to get Kara closer to GAGE to pursue what would eventually become an Olympic dream.

Gymnastics meets were appointment TV before Eaker entered kindergarten. She watched the Beijing Olympics, or perhaps an even earlier meet, while dancing around the living room in a leotard. Sometimes she mimicked the gold medalists by doing back bends. She continued to watch Beijing highlights, with Liukin and Johnson, on replay on YouTube.

Back at the gym, Eaker developed with the help of her coaches, plus future University of Nebraska gymnast Catelyn Orel, her “gym mom” under the GAGE program to pair older and younger athletes. Orel was a state champion on beam. Eaker proved a natural, too.

“A lot of the girls would get up there and have trouble balancing, but she just always seemed to do it just like she was on the floor,” her mom said. “She’s never really had a fear. Some girls get up there and are nervous. She just never seemed to be that way.”

In 2018, Eaker was 15, old enough to start competing on the senior level with the likes of Biles. Exactly 10 years after she would have watched Johnson win the Beijing Olympic beam title, Eaker finished second on beam at nationals behind Biles. She was invited to the world championships team selection camp, where she had the top beam score and placed sixth in the all-around. Six gymnasts would be chosen by a committee to travel to the world championships.

Eaker didn’t expect to make the team. In a large meeting with coaches and staff, the roster was announced. Eaker made it as the youngest member.

“It was a goal, but there were so many other girls and it was my first year as a senior,” she said. “I was very happy and surprised to make that team.”

Eaker again won beam at the 2019 World Championships selection camp. If Eaker endured adversity those first two years, it came at worlds.

In 2018, she fell on her mount in the beam final. The rest of her routine was medal-worthy gymnastics. She waited an eternal three minutes for her score, which placed her sixth. Eaker’s routine from the team final earlier that week would have earned silver.

In 2019, Eaker again qualified for the eight-woman beam final. The U.S. federation submitted an inquiry on her qualifying score, contesting a lower start value given to her. That backfired. Judges lowered Eaker’s score even more upon review, which took her out of the final. However, another gymnast who had qualified later withdrew due to injury. Eaker was back in the final, where she placed fourth.

She was asked afterward what she would take away from the meet.

“Just the experience of it all,” she said, composed. “How it makes me feel. How to use that [in the future].”

In 2021, Eaker will have to prove to a selection committee that she can be reliable on all four apparatuses. The Olympic team event size is four — with three gymnasts going per apparatus in the Olympic final — down from five in 2016, putting a greater emphasis on the all-around. Eaker could also be a candidate for one separate spot in individual events only.

“I definitely want to be seen as a great beam worker, but I also need to be a great all-arounder because they’re going to be looking at not just your one event,” said Eaker, who was third in the all-around at the 2019 Worlds selection camp. “You have to be able to benefit the team with your other events, even if they aren’t as strong as your [best] one.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Laurie Hernandez, Maggie Haney react to coach’s suspension