Early medal for Swiss at Sydney Paralympics

Beat Schwarzenbach won bronze in the first event. Swiss Paralympic team

The Swiss team has won its first medal at the 11th Paralympics in Sydney, which got underway on Thursday. The cyclist, Beat Schwarzenbach, took bronze in the first event of the competition.

This content was published on October 19, 2000 - 09:51

Switzerland's Paralympics team will be hoping that Schwarzenbach's success is a sign of things to come. The athlete, who has had his left leg amputated above the knee, came third in the one-kilometre cycling race, which set a new record for the Paralympics.

The gold was taken by the Slovak cyclist, Radovan Kaufmann, in a little over one minute and 21 seconds. The silver went to Mark Inglis from New Zealand, who finished less than five hundredths of a second before the 32 year-old Schwarzenbach, in one minute and 23 seconds.

The 11th Paralympics were officially opened in Sydney on Wednesday, with the first event starting on Thursday. Switzerland is fielding a 51-strong team, which will be competing in six events.

The Swiss favourite is the paraplegic athlete, Franz Nietlispach, who has 13 Paralympic gold medals and 19 world championship titles to his name.

Other tipped for success are Lukas Christen, Heinz Frei, Ursina Greuter and Urs Kolly, all of whom won medals at the 1996 Atlanta games.

Switzerland's best ever Paralympics year was in 1984, when the medal tally reached 50 - 13 gold, nine silver and 28 bronze. Since then, it has steadily declined in the face of increasing competition.

This year, Sydney is hosting 4,000 athletes from 125 countries. They will compete in 18 different disciplines, from archery to table tennis.

The scale of today's Paralympics is a far cry from the competition's origins in Britain in 1951. The first international sporting event for disabled athletes took place in that year, and was known as the"Stoke Mandeville Games" - after a British hospital treating Second World War veterans.

That tournament was open only to wheelchair athletes, with 130 participants from just two countries.

The field was later extended to allow athletes with a variety of disabilities to test their skills against each other. The first Paralympics proper were held in Rome in 1960, with 400 athletes representing 23 countries.

swissinfo with agencies

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