Paralympic head upbeat on Vancouver Games

By Allan Dowd

The Winter Paralympics, which feature international athletes with physical disabilities, are held in conjunction with the Olympics, with competitions such alpine skiing and sledge hockey, using the same venues.

"It's like the second installment," IPC President Philip Craven said of the Vancouver Paralympics, which open Friday and will run through March 21 in the Canadian Pacific Coast city and at the mountain resort of Whistler.

Organizers say the Vancouver Paralympics have benefited from the excitement generated by the just-completed Olympics, which have been generally hailed as a success despite getting off to a rough start.

About 176,000 tickets have been bought for Paralympic competitions, about 70 percent of what is available, and some events such as the finals of sledge hockey and wheelchair curling are sold out.

Although media interest in the Paralympics still pales in comparison to that given the Olympics, organizers say the public support in Vancouver follows a trend also seen at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

Craven, speaking to reporters in Whistler, dismissed the idea that only way for disabled and able-bodied athletes to receive equal attention is hold the events at the same time.

"We're not looking at all to bring the two Games together, and I don't believe IOC (International Olympic Committee) is either. We've got a good formula at the moment, and when a formula works, why change it," he said.

Craven said talks continue with the IOC about sharing international sponsorships, something that is already done with domestic sponsors signed up by the organizing committees in Vancouver and London, host of the 2012 Summer Games.

"We fit well together. The two Games together. I think the IOC is aware of that. We're aware of that.... I'm pretty positive," Craven said.

Increased public interest has also helped the International Paralympic movement get through the economic downturn, which has cut into sponsorship revenue for all international sports events.

The prospect of public interest generating more media interest is something Paralympic athletes say they would welcome, to deliver a message of what people can do in life even with major physical disabilities.

"There are so many people with disabilities around the world who don't know they can participate in sports and recreation," said Muffy Davis, an alpine skier, who was on the U.S. Paralympic teams at the 1998 and 2002 Games.

(Reporting Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson)