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Glory in defeat for Rim Ju Song as North Korea's sole Paralympian eyes gold in Rio

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Glory in defeat for Rim Ju Song as North Korea's sole Paralympian eyes gold in Rio
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 05, 2012 7:20 am Download PostRate Post

Ellie Simmonds is meant to be the star of the Aquatics Centre but she was not the athlete being followed around by a news crew and a hoard of international journalists on Tuesday morning. That special status was reserved for North Korea's only participant at these Games, Rim Ju Song, who wore a massive smile despite finishing last in his 50m freestyle heat.

And why not? Rim, who became the nation's forst Paralympian athlete because they only gained provisional membership of the IPC earlier this year, shaved two seconds off his personal best and the fact he swam more than 10 seconds slower than the 16th-placed swimmer, and 17sec off the quickest qualifier, was not important.

Rim only took the sport up five months ago but he is already thinking big. He told a mass of reporters that he intends on becoming the gold medallist at the next Paralympics in Rio.

After his race the 17-year-old trailblazer, who lost his left arm and leg in an accident on a construction site, was embraced and kissed by members of his 44-strong entourage to bemused looks from British fans near the scene.

North Korean flags were being unfurled at every opportunity as photographers and cameraman strained to get a shot of Rim. Normally these special moments for Paralympic teams take place behind closed doors, but this particular celebration was next to the cold food deli where ticketholders were stocking up on coffee and snacks.

“I'm very honoured to be the first Paralympian,” said Rim. “I'm encouraged that many people cheered for me today. I want to be the gold medallist in the next Paralympic Games in Rio 2016.”
His swim, all 47.87sec of it, was not quite a classic of Eric the Eel proportions. Eric Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea swam his 100m freestyle heat at the Sydney 2000 Games in a time that was more than twice that of his competitors, and however bad Rim's swim was, it wasn't that bad. Although maybe his new found skills would have been exposed further had the race gone beyond the one length.

North Korea’s strict censorship laws are well documented but the media scrum that was huddled in front of Rim moments after his swim was assured that his moment in the spotlight would be broadcast on state television.

The North Korean team of one's doctor, Sung Chai Kim, who appeared to be playing the role of proud father to Rim, rubbished questions about the country’s treatment of disabled people.

Asked whether there was truth to allegations the hereditary dictatorship has isolated detention camps for disabled citizens, he replied: “There is a certain number of people with a disability. It is quite a normal thing.

“I don't think it's true (the camps). I saw some media saying that, but I don't think it's true. People normally live in the villages and in the towns. Of course they participate in sport and art, it is quite normal in my country.”

With the cross-examination over, Kim began enjoying himself again and declared that North Korea was preparing to unleash a whole team of champions for Rio.

“We are preparing athletes for table tennis, powerlifting, boccia, wheelchair racing and swimming,” he said. “Only time constraints held us back this time and that's why we only have one swimmer participating. They are all preparing though and observing here.”

The North Koreans are coming. But Rim Ju Song will always be the first.

Scuba Divers support the Games in 2012, do you? Anonymous
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