At Paralympics, No Short Supply Of Testosterone

The Summer Olympics ended last month, but Beijing is still playing host to the Paralympics. Associated Press sportswriter Stephen Wade, who is covering the games, says wheelchair rugby has lots of testosterone and tattoos, too.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Im Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And Im Melissa Block. In Beijing, the cauldron at the Birds Nest Stadium is blazing again, lit by a one-legged Chinese high-jumper who used a pulley to haul himself on his wheelchair to the top of the stadium to ignite the flame.

The Paralympic Games are in high gear - 4,000 disabled athletes from 148 countries competing in everything from sitting volleyball to wheelchair rugby to pentathlon. Stephen Wade is covering as many events as humanly possible for the Associated Press. He joins us from Beijing.

And Stephen, today you went to wheelchair rugby. Tell me about that.

Mr. STEPHEN WADE (Associated Press): I think its my favorite sport already, four people on a court in wheelchairs, bashing into each other, very fast, very high-scoring, you know, lots of testosterone. Its surprising that - you know, men are men, so it doesnt make a difference what - theyre quadriplegics, but theres plenty of testosterone. Its like, you know, like stock car racing out there.

BLOCK: Testosterone and lots of tattoos, I bet, on that U.S. team.

Mr. WADE: Lots of tattoos, lots of testosterone, and a little attitude too.

BLOCK: We know it as murderball from the movie about the U.S. team, and today it was the U.S. against China, new to the sport, China.

Mr. WADE: Yeah, the Chinese coach said theyve only been at it for a year, and they were a little bit outflanked by the Americans. The Americans used some clever American football tactics: blocking, smashing. They could use a little more practice time, the Chinese. The Americans overwhelmed them, basically.

BLOCK: Final score?

Mr. WADE: 65-30.

BLOCK: Stephen, this is, I gather, the first Paralympics that youve covered, and the range of athletes, the range of disabilities with which theyre competing, is quite striking, anything from athletes who are blind to double amputees to athletes with cerebral palsy.

Mr. WADE: Yeah, if youre walking around the Olympic Village, its quite striking. Theres, you know, athletes sometimes without prostheses, sometimes with them, in wheelchairs, guide dogs around. China, I think, has had a rule against guide dogs, but they let them in here.

There is a special atmosphere, although its dwarfed by the Olympics. The Olympics is simply so much bigger, and theres so much more attention to it, so somehow these athletes, even though theyre quite exceptional, can be lost in this gigantic city of Beijing in the wake of the Olympics.

BLOCK: Tell us about some of the top athletes who have gotten a lot of attention in these games.

Mr. WADE: Well, attention by me. One is Esther Vergeer, who is a Dutch wheelchair tennis player. She has won 348 games in a row. She goes for the gold medal I think Sunday. Shes unbelievable, and nobody can touch her, and the top four women in the world are all Dutch. The Dutch have tremendous power, for some reason, in wheelchair tennis.

The other big athlete is Erin Popovich, whos an American swimmer, who has won four gold medals already. This weekend shes likely to win two more. I think she won seven in Greece and six in Sydney. So shes approaching 16 or 17 medals.

BLOCK: Take that, Michael Phelps.

Mr. WADE: Yeah, she is the Michael Phelps, I think, of this U.S. swim team.

BLOCK: I was interested to read about one controversy thats come up, and that has to do with an Irish soccer player, Derek Malone, who was to compete on the seven-on-the-side soccer team. All the players have cerebral palsy, and it was determined that he was not disabled enough to be on the team.

Mr. WADE: This is a strange one. He told us yesterday that he basically had trained through some of his palsy so that hed - by being very, very fit hed overcome a lot of the handicaps, but people in seven-on-the-side decided that he was too fit, he was too agile, so hes been ruled out.

BLOCK: And the classification system for all of these sports is very complicated. Theyre tested and judged in terms of their disability, and they said ultimately you cant play. They sent him home.

Mr. WADE: Yeah, they did. You know, we had drug - we had positive drug tests here too. We had four athletes who in pre-competition testing were found to have taken steroids, and theyve been sent home.

So just like the Olympics. I think we had six positive tests in the Olympics, and we had dozens before. In this event weve had four in pre-competition. So the cheats even work in Paralympic sports.

BLOCK: Sure. What would the games be without a doping scandal?

Mr. WADE: What would they be?

BLOCK: Well, Stephen Wade of the Associated Press, talking with us from Beijing about the Paralympic Games. Thanks so much.

Mr. WADE: Youre welcome, Melissa.

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