‘I am a Paralympian’: How Clifford embodies true spirit of these Games

Sorry, what? It was just a passing reference in a story about our great Paralympic runner Jaryd Clifford, but it intrigued me.

“I’m pretty much forced to go solo because we’re only allowed one guide runner, and my PB is 3.41, so it’s a bit tough,” Clifford told The Guardian.

He was talking about the fact that despite his severe visual impairment caused by “juvenile macular degeneration”, he couldn’t have a guide running with him in the 1500m because there’s only a dozen or so people in the world who could keep up with him, and most of them ran in the Olympics final three weeks ago! True. The runner who came last in the Olympics 1500m clocked 3 mins 38 seconds, just three seconds faster than Clifford’s best.

Wow. Just . . . WOW.

I immediately thought of seeing Louise Sauvage inspirationally win gold in a demonstration wheelchair 800m event in Atlanta in 1996. It was a wonderful bit of integration between the Paralympics and the Olympics, but might this not be the next step? If Clifford focused only on the 1500m, and stopped training also for the 5000m, the 10,000m and the marathon, how fantastic would it be to see him jostling with the best of them in the Olympics, as they came around the final turn in Paris 2024!

I could see front pages around the world!

“Blind Man Beats the Best of ’Em!”

I could write the book! There’d be a movie!

So, I called him, cold, in Tokyo on Thursday night.

Me: “!!!!!”

Him: “???”

Me: ” . . . But . . . !!!”

Him: “. . . Nah.”

In sum, despite the extraordinary running ability of the young student from Melbourne, he would not begin to concede my first assumption: that it would be more glorious for him to run in the Olympics than the Paralympics.

“I am a Paralympian,” he gently explained to me. “I was raised in the Paralympics movement. It has always been my inspiration, what I have always wanted to be. I could compete against many of the Olympians, but I am a Paralympian and very proud to be so.”

Visually impaired runner Jaryd Clifford will take home at least two medals from the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

Impressive, yes?

As it happened in the actual Paralympics 1500m, the race was a very tactical one and he was outsprinted at the end to win a bronze in a time well off the pace of his personal best, which proudly goes with the silver medal he won in the 5000m. He has one chance left for his coveted Paralympics gold medal, and it is Sunday morning in the marathon, the distance he has trained least for.

“My first goal is to survive,” he says, “which won’t be easy as it will be so hot and humid. But I am going to go for it. I am going to fight tooth and nail for a medal, and go for gold if I can.”

To help steer him, he will have two guides each running half the distance, tethered to him, which is particularly useful when it comes to running round corners.

“They will tell me, ‘left’, ‘right’ and so forth, and if I can’t quite hear them, they will tug on the tether to guide me. We will get there.”

Bravo, Jaryd.

I will put the book movie deal on hold. But, be it Paralympics or Olympics, what a runner!

No time to carry on with the carry-on

This, friends, will be a test of the collective NRL IQ.

No, really!

In normal times Mad Monday generates a good harvest of atrocity headlines, each one detailing activities more stupid, or appalling, than the last. The question is, will they be soooo stupid, so breathtakingly ignorant as to carry on with the carry-on in the middle of COVID, with Queensland right on the knife’s-edge as we speak, wondering if they are destined to go the same way as NSW and Victoria?

I say they will. Watch this space.

But here’s a thought for them: what do you actually have to celebrate? As this goes to press, it is possible the Sharks are going to make the finals with a record of 10 wins and 14 losses – courtesy of those finals taking in a massive eight teams in a 16-team comp.

And you didn’t make it. So, you are celebrating what exactly?

Hart-warming Dragons tale

Having rightly bagged the St George Illawarra Dragons last week for their complete loss of moral compass, let us right the balance this week with a story from their glory days, drawn from Geoff Armstrong’s book, Spirit of the Red V: Volume I (1921–1967), which has just been released as part of the St George district club’s centenary celebrations.

It is about Lieutenant Gordon Hart, who was man of the match in the Dragons’ first premiership win in 1941.

Hart was aged 22 the day St George first won the premiership. A 5ft 5in centre good enough to play for NSW, he enlisted in August 1941 and was sent to a special forces training camp on Wilsons Promontory in Victoria, meaning he missed Saints’ semi-final victory over Balmain.

Club officials pulled strings so he’d be available for the final against Easts, but his problem was getting to the SCG for the game. Hart left camp on a milk truck early on the Friday morning, travelled for four hours to south-west Melbourne, hoping to get a flight from the Point Cook aerodrome to Sydney.

But no planes were available, so eventually he went back to the city and snuck on board the last overnight train north, spending the entire journey avoiding transport officers because he didn’t have a ticket. He reached Central around lunchtime Saturday and from there walked up Foveaux Street and across Moore Park to the ground. Saints officials, who weren’t sure exactly where he was, had reserve-grade lock Bill Collier ready to play if Hart didn’t arrive in time.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Hart played “magnificently” in the Dragons’ 31–14 win. The Sunday Telegraph headlined their grand final report: ‘Soldier Hart Hero of St George’s First Premiership Victory.’ Easts captain Ray Stehr said: “It’s a pity he didn’t miss the train. If he hadn’t played, we might have won.”

While his teammates celebrated, Hart showered and quickly left the ground. He had to get back to camp. He caught a troop train to Melbourne, and after hitching a ride with a commanding officer finally got back to Wilsons Promontory just before midnight on the Sunday night. Though he survived the war – serving as a commando in Timor, New Guinea and Tarakan, and being mentioned in despatches for some heroic service in Timor – he never played first grade again.

Chills, yes?

Good on you, Lieutenant Hart. Eighty years on, we salute you.

Played tough, Don good

Twenty-odd years ago, as I was nearing the end of writing a biography on John Eales, the Wallaby captain kicked the iconic goal from the sidelines at the Wellington “Cake Tin” which slayed the All Blacks in the final minute of the deciding Bledisloe. (Let me hear you say RAH!)

My wife commented to me at the time, that it was John’s “Gregan-moment,” by which she meant the single act that would most likely define his career, a la George Gregan’s famous tackle on Jeff Wilson at the SFS in 1994 to win that Bledisloe. And she was right!

This week on Twitter, someone reminded me of a similar Gregan-moment for an AFL player, and I was not only there at the time, but as I wrote in these pages it helped me get the glory of AFL for the first time. It was at the Anzac Day Essendon-Collingwood match at the MCG in 2009, see? What a game! What an atmosphere! What movement of the ball! What a “result!”

David Zaharakis (right) after his famous Anzac Day goal in 2009.Credit:Pat Scala

Like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the two teams gallop from end to end for 2½ hours, with no quarter asked or given, and the entire tide of play keeps switching in an instant on a single mistake or individual act of brilliance. With just five minutes remaining in the game, Collingwood are ahead by 14 points, only to see Essendon snap off two quick devastating goals to close the gap to two points. With 30 seconds to go, a Bomber has the ball right in front of the Collingwood goal, only to blow it, with the ball skewing off the side of his boot, and yet still Essendon aren’t done! With just seconds left, young David Zaharakis kicks the ball from 40 metres out, and as it sails in the direction of the posts, 92,000 people hold their breaths.


His Gregan-moment, in the bag, just four matches into his career. Essendon have had some great wins since, but nothing to match that’un, and not even a grand final appearance. Twelve years and 226 matches later, Zaharakis, has just this week been let go by Essendon, with their thanks, but in this sporting business . . . well, business is business, you understand.

And he does, by all accounts. Injuries have cut his appearances to just 19 in the last two years, but he wants to keep going with another AFL club.

What They Said

Ricky Stuart, after his Raiders finished their last-gasp attempt to make the NRL with a choke against the Roosters: “If we can’t beat that team out there tonight we are only wasting another week being up here. We might as well go see the families because f*** it. Ummm, if we couldn’t beat that team, Christ. No good waiting for another week to get beaten.”

Cristiano Ronaldo on his return to Manchester United after 12 years after playing elsewhere: “I’m back where I belong.” Awwwww. I bet he says that to all the clubs?

Brandon Smith after the Storm had their streak snapped, was a little wary of coach Craig Bellamy’s reaction: “I hope he’s wearing a mask because it will be raining spit in there, I know that for sure. He sprayed the F out of us at half-time and I can only imagine what’s about to come down. Pray for our souls, boys.”

Phil Gould defending the indefensible, while dissing most of those with an opinion contrary to his: “Latrell was doing what fullbacks do and there will be people who never played this game or never been in this position who don’t understand that. We do, they don’t.”

Andy Murray on other tennis players not being vaccinated: “I feel like I’m enjoying a fairly normal life, whereas for the players that haven’t, it’s different. I’m sure they’ll be frustrated with that. Ultimately I guess the reason why all of us are getting vaccinated is to look out for the wider public.“ Precisely. Just like Lleyton Hewitt, Murray has got easier to like as the years have gone by.

Greek tennis player Stefanos Tsitsipas on why he needs eight-minute toilet breaks, which has aroused the ire of fans, and the fire of Andy Murray: “The people love the sport, they come to watch tennis … I’ve got nothing against them, I love the fans, but some people don’t understand that’s all. They don’t understand, they haven’t played tennis at the highest level to understand how much effort and how difficult it is to do what we are doing and sometimes we need a short break to do what we have to do.” Who does he think he is, Phil Gould?

Nick Kyrgios melting down in his US Open first round loss: “It’s like f—ing 70 degrees out here bro, I don’t want to walk back and forth. That’s so stupid. My job is to come out here and play for the people, not walk back and forth between towels.”

Josh Morris hanging up the boots at season’s end on the journey with his twin, Brett: “My best mate, we’ve literally been on this journey together from the start. I wouldn’t be half the player I am – nowhere near the player I am – without you pushing me.”

Shane Warne tweets what seems to be a shot at Woman’s Day for some story saying he is back with Liz Hurley. “For 30 years my children & I have had to put up with your lies & fabricated stories – well not anymore. You should not be allowed to just make things up. You are going to apologise to the Aust public for your continual lies & my family as this is an absolute disgrace – AGAIN!” And fair enough, too. Though it’s the ones that weren’t fabricated that probably hurt more?

Andrew Webster reports that this meme has been doing the rounds of NRL circles: “BREAKING NEWS: The NRL have reviewed the Latrell Mitchell hit and decided to suspend Victor Radley for another eight weeks!”

@ianinindo1 on Twitter: “Toby Greene [wishes] his report had been passed to Phil Gaetjens office instead of the AFL.”

Team of the Week

NSW Swifts. 2021 Super Netball champions, clinching their seventh national netball league trophy and their second title in just three years.

Craig McRae. Has been installed as the new coach of Collingwood.

Socceroos. Kicked off third round of World Cup qualifying with a 3-0 win over China.

Swifts players enjoy the moment after their grand final victory.Credit:Getty Images

Wallabies and All Blacks. Meet in Perth on Sunday in the third Bledisloe.

Perth. Not that surprisingly, the most isolated city on earth, and therefore the easiest to defend against COVID-19, will be hosting the AFL grand final this year.

Jacques Rogge. The former IOC president, who played rugby for Belgium in the second row, has passed away.

Ryley Smith. Was named this week in the Australian Schoolboys rugby league team – just a few months after winning the same honour in cricket. He is the first player to do so since Bronko Djura in the early 1980s.

Cristiano Ronaldo. Broke the record for most international goals by a male when he scored twice for Portugal against the Republic of Ireland. Trailing 1-0 after 89 minutes, his side won 2-1.

Allan Japp. Last Saturday, Hay’s favourite chemist achieved another “Holy Grail of Golf”, by shooting a round of 82 in Hay Golf Club’s stableford competition last Saturday – a score one shot less than his age.

TWITTER: @Peter_Fitz

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