Local Paralympian comes up short in medal hunt
It was a podium finish or bust for Earle Connor, but unfortunately the 35-year-old Airdrie sprinter was denied a third Paralympic medal. He finished in fourth place in the men’s T42 100-metre dash at the 2012 Paralympics in London, Sept. 7.
“My goal was to defend my title and win a gold medal,” he said. “Forty-five weeks ago, that’s what we set out to accomplish. In the end, I had a bad day. There’s no excuses and I can’t chalk it up to anything. My body didn’t produce the result I was hoping it would give me.”
On the road to the finals, Connor, the reigning champion in the T42 100-metre race, came in second in his semi-final heat. He set out to place first in his semi-final, but wanted to use as little energy as possible in order to go full speed in the final. When he crossed the line in second during his heat, Connor, whose left leg is amputated from the knee down, found himself in a different situation than he was used to.
“(The second-place finish) played on me? a bit,” he said. “My streak of winning races for 16 years was over. I don’t think that was the best-case scenario going into the finals. When I got out of the block, I knew I had my work cut out for me, but my gas tank was almost empty. It was pretty disheartening.”
It took Connor, who was the second oldest competitor in the final, a few days to come to terms with fourth place, but on the plane ride home from London, he was able to grasp the spectacle he had taken part in.
The London Paralympics marked what Connor believes is a turning point in the sport. It was a record-breaking tournament on and off the track, as the Games hosted 2.7 million spectators and brought in $70 million in ticket sales. Both are unprecedented figures.
Connor, who previously competed in Sydney and Beijing, said the London Games were “monumentally different.”
“It was ridiculously electric,” he said. “People in Britain love track and field. It’s probably their second-most popular sport. They appreciate the efforts and the training and performances similar to (the appreciation) we have for hockey. They rallied around it whether you had cerebral palsy or you were blind or an amputee. They looked at you as an athlete first and as a person with a disability second. That goes a long way in making it parallel to the Olympics.”
Another factor was Oscar Pistorius, the South African double-amputee sprinter who made headlines when he became the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics. He qualified for the semi-finals of the 400-metre race, competed in the 4x400-metre relay and carried the flag for South Africa in the closing ceremonies.
According to Connor, Pistorius’ success during the Olympics helped raise the awareness of the Paralympic Games and will help elevate the sport to a new level.
“He went even beyond blurring the line,” said Connor, who is friends with Pistorius. “He helped erase the line. The publicity and marketing he did for the Paralympics is invaluable to our movement. It shows a worldwide audience what a person with a disability can do and it raised excitement all around the world.
“He helped make it a special event in our sport’s history. To have a guy who was born without feet become the 14th fastest runner in the world, I can’t say enough about that.”
While London left him disappointed, it has also fuelled him for what’s to come. Next on his list is the 2013 World Championships, which will be held in Lyons, France, in July. He’s already been working on upgrading his prosthetic running leg to the latest technology, as he said he was running on “archaic technology” in London, and he’s giving himself a lot more time to train than he did for London.
Then, it’s onto Rio. Connor said he will aim to compete at the 2014 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and missing the podium in London is the perfect fuel to the fire.
“I want to make sure I give everything I have to this sport because it’s given so much to me,” he said. “I absolutely have to put myself into that ring and fight for it.”