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Eric Liddell, paralympians and great Olympic values

By Mal Fletcher - posted Wednesday, 1 August 2012

There are probably few things that stir the human soul like the story of a winner against seemingly insurmountable odds.

During the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, I watched a spectacle on TV that I think will stay with me for the rest of my days.

All the able-bodied – or perhaps we should just say, less-physically-challenged – competitors had gone home. The hype and hoopla were dying down and a smaller but still enthusiastic crowd had remained to watch the competition between physically challenged athletes from around the world.


I watched in amazement as one young Chinese man, probably no more than a teenager, surged quite early to the front of the field. He stretched his lead lap by lap until he was entire body-lengths ahead of his nearest rival.

I was stunned as he touched the pad to register first place; stunned first by the scale of his victory and then by the fact that he had hit the pad with the top of his head.

This young man had no arms. He was the only competitor in the race who had no arms. Somehow, almost miraculously it seemed, he had kicked and breathed, kicked and breathed his way to victory.

All of the racers that day deserved plaudits – as do all Paralympians – but this man's win was made all the more remarkable because of his particular disability.

I found myself choking on emotion and thinking, almost aloud. 'Whatever that boy has, I want some of it.'

Sadly, I don't remember the name of the swimmer, nor do I recall the length of his race. What I won't forget is the quality of his determination and the sheer improbability of his feat.


I will always remember, too, the expression joy on his face after the win and the sheer delight he gave to those of us who saw him race.

This surely is what the entire Olympic tournament is really about; not the razzmatazz of the opening or closing ceremonies, as uplifting as they may be, or the glorious pictures of the host city, beamed in an instant to an audience of billions.

The twin Olympic pageants – and let's not forget there are two – should be all about the human element.

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This article was first published at 2020Plus

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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