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The Journal Gazette

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette From left, Amanda Dennis, Marybai Huking and Eliana Mason are members of the U.S. women's goalball team. They're competing for a spot in next year's Tokyo Paralympics.

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette US Women's Goalball athlete Marybai Huking throws the ball in the first period against Ukranian during the 2019 IBSA Goalball & Judo International Qualifier held at the Schaefer Center on Thursday.  

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette US Women's Goalball athlete Marybai Huking searches for a loose ball in the first period against Ukranian during the 2019 IBSA Goalball & Judo International Qualifier held at the Schaefer Center on Thursday.  

Saturday, July 06, 2019 1:00 am

IBSA goalball qualifier

US puts Paralympians on par with Olympians

Both groups to get same cash award for winning a medal

ELIZABETH WYMAN | The Journal Gazette

The first Paralympic Games took place in Rome nearly 60 years ago.

And it has taken that long for U.S. Paralympians to finally earn the respect their Olympic counterparts are given.

Beginning with the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games next summer, U.S. Paralympians will receive the same dollar amount as Olympians for gold, silver and bronze medals won, the U.S. Olympic Committee announced last September. On June 20, the USOC formally became the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

Athletes competing in Fort Wayne at the 2019 International Blind Sports Federation goalball and judo international qualifier this week are vying for spots in next summer's Paralympics and have many thoughts on the newfound inclusiveness they're experiencing.

“It just shows that unity among the groups now, and equality,” U.S. women's goalball player and five-time Paralympian Lisa Czechowski said. “It's just the continued steps in the transition into one group of people – one group of Paralympians and Olympians. I think it's great, but I'm not doing it for the money.”

“The board has been discussing this change for several months and following consultation with Paralympic athletes, the Paralympic Advisory Council and an endorsement from the Athletes Advisory Council, I'm really glad we were able to take this important step,” Cheri Blauwet, USOPC board member, said in a press release.

Paralympic athletes will now receive $37,500 for each gold medal earned at the Paralympic Games, $22,500 for silver and $15,000 for bronze. Payments will be retroactively distributed to include medals won at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.

Previously, Paralympians received $7,500 for gold, $5,250 for silver and $3,750 for bronze medals, according to a USOC press release from 2016.

“The United States is recognizing the high-quality of athletics that's being produced by Paralympians all over the U.S.,” U.S. women's goalball coach Jake Czechowski said. “The opportunity to represent your country to the fullest extent and to have that exposure is what these athletes are working for.

“The Olympic athletes have recognized and supported us for years, it was just a bit of exposure that was lacking to understand the true dynamics of the Paralympic Games.

Now that that has increased, as well as being able to be true equal partners with our Olympian counterparts is everything.

The first Paralympics saw just 24 athletes compete. At the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, the United States sent 73 athletes to compete and brought home 36 medals – its largest total since the Salt Lake City Paralympics in 2002.

“This is a historic moment for the Paralympic Movement in the United States,” Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee said in a press release.

“To see the USOPC make this inclusive statement by changing its name demonstrates the true parallel nature of the Olympic and Paralympic movements. This change lays a strong foundation to transform the Paralympic Movement as we look toward the Los Angeles Games in 2028 and beyond.”

For Olympians, Paralympians and U.S. citizens the change is a long time coming. But it's still a big step forward.

“It means a lot because the decision was unanimous by Olympians and Paralympians alike, so it shows that equality is wanted by everyone involved in the movement,” said Eliana Mason, who was part of the U.S. bronze-winning goalball team in Rio 2016. “It's really empowering to feel like we're getting the recognition that we deserve.”

ewyman@jg.net