Sat, Sep 27, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Taiwan's unsung heroes

The achievements of handicapped athletes may go relatively unnoticed, but this hasn't stopped them from representing their country and winning medals time and again

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

According to Lai, since President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) began his term in office, acquisition of annual funds for the paralympics team has got easier. Instead of an annual budget, funding is based upon the committee's sporting calendar.

Due to its participation in the upcoming Wheelchair Games in Christchurch, New Zealand, in October, this year's budget weighed in at just over NT$20million. With the cash, Lai said he was confident Taiwan's paralympic team would continue to prove its medal winning mettle in track and field events, table tennis and power lifting.

"There might be no fixed annual budget, but the funding we do get is enough and enables us to attend more competitions, which in turn means we are in a constant state of improvement," Lai said.

Receiving slightly less funding -- roughly NT$5million per annum -- the Chinese Taipei Sports Association of the Deaf has also made its mark on the international sporting scene; athletics, aquatics and table-tennis being the three areas in which the associations excels. Deaf athletes are not permitted by IOC rules to participate in sports that involve physical contact such as judo and wrestling for safety reasons.

Deaflympic success might have eluded the team, but after participating in only three Asian Pacific Games for the Deaf since 1996 the Chinese Taipei Sports Association of the Deaf is currently lying second in the overall Asian standings. Its behemoth cross-strait rival China is third with 22 gold medals to Taiwan's 24.

"When you look at the numbers of those eligible to participate in deaf games in China for example, then Taiwan's achievement is fantastic," said Chao Yu-ping (趙玉平) Secretary General of the Chinese Taipei Sports Association of the Deaf. "There are an estimated 46,000 deaf people in Taiwan while China has 2 million deaf people."

Along with beating China into second place in the Asian rankings, Taiwan's deaf athletes have also enjoyed the prestige of hosting the Deaflympics. In 2000 the sixth Asian Pacific Games for the Deaf was held in Taipei. The event saw Taiwan placing second to Japan by a margin of only three silver medals.

The association was recently given another boost after Taiwan won the rights to host the 2009 Deaflympics, which will be the first time the event has ever been held in an Asian country since its inception in 1924.

Although Taiwan's handicapped athletes are all amateurs, those athletes chosen to represent their country still take international competition very seriously. Along with its regular coaching sessions, the Chinese Taipei Paralympics Committee has recently taken to using sports psychologists in order to enhance performance. Also, members of the paralympic squad have been visiting the Chinese Culture University's Graduate Institute of Sport Coaching Science (中國文化大學運動教練研究所) for the past three years, around two or three months prior to a meet, to fine tune their preparations.

Wired up to an array of specially adapted exercise machines, faculty members such as Professor Jasson Chiang (江界山) try to find ways in which the athletes can hone their skills.

"We have specially adapted machines on which we can plot the handicapped athletes' physiology. With the coaches present we map out a training schedule that best suits each particular individual," said Chiang. "Unlike non-handicapped athletes, each one has his/her restrictions and own needs. We haven't been doing it long and we're still learning, but it's certainly made a difference, especially to the younger athletes."

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