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Unsung heroes behind champions: The guides of para sports

www.ehangzhou.gov.cn| Updated: October 24, 2023 L M S


Di Dongdong and Lian Jiageng in the men's 100-meter race at the 4th Hangzhou Asian Para Games on Oct 23. [Photo/hangzhou.com.cn]

In the world of para sports, the most important players aren't always who you'd expect. These are the athletes who, although celebrated, have a supporting cast that often remains unseen. Enter the guides, the unsung heroes who play an indispensable role in the success of the athletes.

Meet Di Dongdong, the gold medalist in the T11 long jump category at the Tokyo Paralympics, and his unsung partner, Lian Jiageng.

Di is visually impaired and requires assistance while competing. In T11 sports, the athletes are fully blindfolded during the events, and this is where a trusted partner becomes the athlete's "eyes".

On Oct 23, at the 4th Hangzhou Asian Para Games, Di secured a gold medal in the men's men's long jump (T11 category) and topped the group in the heats of the men's 100-meter race (T11 category). The victories are a testament to the partnership between Di and Lian.

While the spotlight is on the athletes, the role of the guide is often overlooked. Lian, in this case, remains nameless and without a number. But he is the one who runs alongside Di, guiding him with a 10-centimeter lead. They share a deep bond, an unspoken connection that has developed through years of rigorous training and competition.

In T11 sports, a guide aids the visually impaired athlete. They must complete a three-year process to hone their partnership and coordination. The guide typically finishes the race about 0.4 to 0.5 seconds faster than the athlete, and they must maintain a height difference within about 5 centimeters.


Di claims the gold medal in the men's long jump (T11 category). [Photo/hangzhou.com.cn]

"From the provincial team to the national team, we have been working together for almost six years," Lian said. Their journey began with challenges – constant collisions and imperfect synchronization. But with time, practice, and a shared living space, their connection evolved. "We are together for training, meals, and competitions. Our coordination is 100 percent," Di explained.

On the race day, as the finish line approaches, the guide releases their partner, allowing the athlete to revel in the joy of victory. The unsung heroes share the training load and the competition's pressure with the athletes. They are the backbone of the para teams, providing relentless support and trust.

Lian was there when Di secured a gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympics. He will continue to be Di's guide at the Paris Paralympics next year, a testament to their unwavering partnership and their shared quest for more success. In a world where the spotlight is often reserved for athletes, let's not forget the guides who illuminate their path to glory.


Di and Lian prepare for the men's 100m run. [Photo/hangzhou.com.cn]

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