Rio Paralympic attendance surpasses some Olympic crowd sizes

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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

Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
Puma
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin
Atomic
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Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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