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Swiss Paralympians hit their target

Edith Hunkeler celebrates a world-record performance on Wednesday Keystone

The Paralympic Games have ended in Beijing with the Swiss delegation capturing 11 medals, the minimum goal it had set.

The team won three gold, two silver and six bronze medals to finish in 34th place. China won the most medals at 211. Britain took second with 102 medals. The United States placed third with 99.

Ruedi Spitzli, head of the Swiss team, had mixed feelings about Switzerland’s performance while expressing hope that the Paralympic Games would be taken more seriously from now on.

“We need more ways to improve our training,” he said. “We need to become more professional so that we aren’t left behind. For me, these games and how big they were have marked the start of a new era in the Paralympic movement.”

More than 4,000 athletes from 148 countries competed in 20 disciplines such as power lifting and wheelchair fencing. The athletes performed in many of the same venues that showcased the Olympic Games, which ended shortly before the Paralympic Games began.

Small but mighty

The Swiss delegation included just 26 athletes, one of the smallest contingents the country has mustered in recent years.

Yet of those athletes, several had strong enough showings to capture multiple medals as well as set a world record.

Heinz Frei, a 50-year-old athlete from Solothurn, won two of Switzerland’s three gold medals in the 12.7-kilometre and 48.4-kilometre hand-bike races. A shot at a third podium finish slipped from his hands after a fall while trying to change lanes in the last turn of a race. He now has 14 career gold medals in all.

Six-time Swiss disabled athlete of the year, Edith Hunkeler, set a world record in the women’s marathon T54 race with a blistering 1:39:59 finish. The athlete from Lucerne seized a bronze medal in the 1,500-metre T54 wheelchair a day after a terrifying crash resulted in a brief hospital stay.

“It’s a dream come true,” said the 36-year-old. “Few people still believed in me after that crash.” Hunkeler was the cause of the pileup on September 8 that took out six of the 11 racers in the 5,000-metre T54 race.

A medal is a medal

Beat Bösch captured two silver medals in the 200-metre and 100-metre T52 wheelchair races, having missed gold by a mere 0.04 seconds in the latter event.

Other winners include Sandra Graf who brings home a bronze medal in the marathon T54 wheelchair race.

“At last a medal,” said the Appenzeller. “The colour doesn’t matter.”

In other events, Pia Schmid took bronze in the 200-metre T52 race while Urs Kolly came third in the pentathlon. Philippe Horner also won a bronze medal in archery, and Manuela Schär rounded out Switzerland’s tally with a bronze in the 200-metre T54 wheelchair race.

London will host the next Paralympics in 2012.

swissinfo with agencies

The Paralympics took place in many of the same venues as the Olympic Games in Beijing.

About 4,000 disabled athletes from 148 countries took part.

The Swiss delegation was made up of 26 athletes, one of the smallest contingents in recent years.

Heinz Frei, 23-time Paralympic medal winner, carried the Swiss flag at the opening ceremony.

The next Paralympics will be held in London in 2012.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR