Thursday, September 11, 2008

Feature: It's never too old to play for para-athletes

With long black hair, delicate makeup, and what's more important, the big smile in her face after winning a bronze medal at the Beijing Paralympic Games, Italian Clara Podda looked much younger than her age.

The 57-year-old beat French player Isabelle Lafaye Marziou to win her first Paralympic medal in the women's individual class 1-2 table tennis event Wednesday afternoon.

"I must win the medal. I'm so happy with it," said the Italian.

Podda said she has been waiting for the medal for eight years. In Sydney and Athens, she was both ranked fouth.

"I might be the unlucky one, but I finally made it," said Podda, who is also a table-tennis coach for two clubs in Italy.

Podda, who was disabled by a car accident 20 years ago, shrugged off the disadvantage of age.

"It doesn't mean anything to me," she said.

It's Podda's fourth Paralympics. She competed in backstroke event at 1996 Atlanta Paralympics and finished sixth.

She played table tennis for fun in 1999. At the beginning, she even didn't know how to use the paddle. However, two months later, she claimed Italian champion and three months later, European champion.

"I must be a natural ping-pong player," she said, blinking.

She said she will continue her Paralympic journey for a long long time.

"I'll participate in the London Games for sure," she said.

Actually, many Paralympians have competed at several consecutive Games and some of them have achieved a lot.

The Beijing Paralympics is Australian shooter Libby Kosmala's 10th Games, with which the 66-year-old has written the longest Games record of all athletes, both Olympics and Paralympics.

She made debut at the Paralympics in Munich's swimming pool, and then tried athletics and archery. It's not until 1980 Moscow Paralympics that she found out her advantage in shooting by winning one gold and two silvers.

She collected four gold medals in Los Angeles and another four at 1988 Seoul Paralympics.

In recent years, she kept training in spite of not-so-good performance at the Paralympics.

This time in Beijing, she was so close to a bronze medal as she was outscored by Puerto Rico player only with a disadvantage of 0.1 point.

However, "it's not bad," said the evergreen Paralympian.

"I had a bitter last year, a long year and that made some challenges and also made me come back again," Kosmala said.

Emilie Gradisek, 69, of the Slovenian women's sitting volleyball team, had an explanation on why the elder athletes are still active at the Paralympics.

"With more experience I know how to relax the team under pressure with jokes," laughed Gradisek.

Gradisek was highly praised by head coach as the spiritual leader of the team, whose players' average age is 39.3.

"I feel pleased with that, I am important to the team," she said.

The "granny" is ambitious about her future at the Paralympics.

"I may be healthy enough to play at the London Paralympics," she said.

Source: Xinhua

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