The 2014 Winter Paralympics in Russia are set to kick off on March 7th. With the games just four days away, the preceding days will be filled with ceremonies including the lighting of the Paralympic Flame. For the first time ever, the lighting of the flame was televised in Stoke Mandeville, located in Buckinghamshire, England — considered the birthplace of the Paralympic movement.
However, much less attention has been paid to the historic ceremony currently ongoing for the Paralympic Games, with the focus instead being paid to Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprint runner who shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on February 14, 2013. His trial commenced Monday morning in South Africa with the 27-year-old pleading non-guilty to all charges including the “willful and intentional murder of Reeva Steenkamp”. The 29-year-old model and reality TV personality was shot and killed by Pistorius in the Paralympians apartment, who claimed he had mistaken her for an intruder.
Pistorius, who won two 2012 London Paralympic gold medals and one silver, had both legs amputated at the age of 11 months after being born with fibular hemimelia, the congenital absence of the fibula in both legs. The shooting and subsequent arrest was a blow to the country of South Africa who had rallied around Pistorius’ success on the track.
Pistorius, who is known as the “Blade Runner”, quickly became one of the most famous Paralympic athletes in the world for his successes with running. But over the last year and two weeks, he has become a household name for his involvement in the murder. His trial is being streamed live on a 24/7 South African television station, with parts of it being televised around the world.
While Pistorius’ case drags on through the ensuing weeks, the celebrations and games for the Winter Paralympics will attempt to earn its time in the spotlight. Yesterday and today, according to the 2014 Organizing Committee of the XXII Olympic Winter Games and XI Paralympic Winter Games of 2014 in Sochi, the Paralympic flame will have visited several landmarks in the U.K. over the course of the week as well as a visit to the Prime Minister’s residence in London. During a ceremony at the Municipal Theatre in Aylesbury, in the county of Buckinghamshire, viewers learned about the Paralympic Movement through various movies, paintings, storytelling, creative performances and thematic talks.
South Africa will not compete in the Winter Paralympics, which begin Friday with the opening ceremony. Instead, the nation will be glued to following the Pistorius case that could see the athlete serve a minimum of 25 years in prison, with a life sentence if convicted of premeditated murder. The trial is being handled by Judge Thokozile Masipa, who will ultimately hand down Pistorius’ verdict. The focus of the trial, according to correspondents, will be put on ballistic evidence from the scene of the crime.
The games themselves haven’t yet begun, but it isn’t hard to imagine the Pistorius case receiving more coverage. While justice needs to be served here, and should that entail a long and arduous trial to ensure the verdict is handed down 100 percent accurately, then so be it. However, the 2014 Winter Paralympics are important for not just the athletes competing, but for the continual forward movement and awareness of physical and intellectual disabilities, including mobility disabilities, amputations, blindness, and cerebral palsy, of which are all embodied in the Paralympians this year.
VISUAL CONTEXT: PARALYMPIC COMPETITOR’S VERSUS OLYMPIC COMPETITOR’S