19 May 2008

Other Olympians with disabilities

I wrote in a previous post that Natalie du Toit, the South African swimmer, and Oscar Pistorius (if he qualifies), the South African sprinter, would be the first Olympians who have amputations to compete in the summer Olympics. I have to take it back, though, because I read about George Eyser, an American gymnast with a wooden leg who won 3 gold medals (plus 2 silver and 1 bronze!) at the 1904 olympics. His gold medals were in rope climbing, vault, and parallel bars. I would love to say more about him but I can't find any more information about his life. Could make an interesting research project!

Other notable Olympians with physical disabilities include:

Neroli Fairhall, a female New Zealander paraplegic who competed in archery in the 1984 Olympics. She was injured in a motorbike accident and subsequently competed from her wheelchair. A fantastic photo of her can be seen at the top of this post.

Paola Fantato, an Italian archer, followed in Fairhall's footsteps by competing from a wheelchair in the 1996 Olympics. Fantato had polio as an infant which left her with a permanent physical disability.

American runner Marla Runyan, who is legally blind (fun fact: I met Marla Runyan several years ago because we went to the same hairdresser. She is 100% muscle!) ran in 2000 and 2004.

Karoly Takacs was a Hungarian sharpshooter who lost his right hand in a grenade accident in 1938. He then switched to shooting with his left hand and won two gold medals in the "25 meter rapid fire pistol" event, 1948 and 1952. (I would include a picture, because he looks really intimidating, but I don't like guns so you can go look at his wikipedia page instead.)

Jim Abbot, the American Major League pitcher, was born missing his right hand. He won a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics on the US baseball team before starting his ten year professional pitching career.

Oliver Halassy, a Hungarian water polo player, won two Olympic golds and one silver medal (1932, 1936, 1928). He lost his left leg below the knee in a streetcar accident as a child.

Pyambuu Tuul is a blind marathon runner from Mongolia. After a corneal transplant restored partial sight in one eye, he ran in the 1992 Olympics.

Ildiko Ujlaki-Rejto, a Hungarian fencer who was born deaf. She won two gold medals in the "individual foil" event, in 1964 and 1968.

I wonder if anyone at the time these athletes competed was crying foul for the use of a wooden leg on the parallel bars or a wheelchair on the archery range.

1 comment:

Penny L. Richards said...

Brava! Excellent list, some really wonderful finds. I'd only add a few:

Silken Laumann is a Canadian rower who won Olympic medals before and after a serious accident badly damaged and scarred her leg

And of course a lot of athletes have ADHD or other invisible diagnoses. Diver Greg Louganis has been pretty "out" about having a learning disability--he's often included in lists of "famous people with dyslexia"--but there are many others. Cammi Granato, captain of the gold-medal-winning US women's hockey team in 1998, said of her ADHD in an interview:

"From the athletic standpoint, it’s helped me achieve because I have the energy, the drive, the complete restlessness where I have to be doing something. I can’t sit still for very long. That’s helped me train at a high-intensity level."