Paralympics: O'Hanlon gives thanks for disability

LONDON Sat Sep 8, 2012 8:41pm IST

LONDON (Reuters) - Evan O'Hanlon cannot turn door handles or pick up coins with his left hand and struggles for stability in his left ankle, yet he can hurtle around the bend of an athletics track.

The Australian clinched 200 metres gold on Saturday and, in the process, setting a scintillating new world record, despite having limited feeling in the left hand side of his body after he suffered a stroke before his mother gave birth.

The 24 year old, who has cerebral palsy which affects movement, posture and coordination, is not complaining.

"Disability is probably the best thing that ever happened to me," he told Reuters. "Sometimes I wonder if I could cut it as an able-bodied athlete.

"But then I look back and laugh because I wouldn't have the opportunities I have now.

"It's opened so many doors to go and meet people. It's how I met my girlfriend," he said of Czech Republic race walker Zuzana Schindlerova, who competed at the 2008 Beijing Games and was in London to cheer him on.

O'Hanlon was also in China where he won his first Olympic golds in the T38 class 100, 200 and 4 x 100 metre relay.

In London he defended both his 100 and 200 titles in the same bracket, described by O'Hanlon as the "most mild class" where there are no prosthetic legs or wheelchairs on display.

The time differences are significant though, the multiple world champion clocking 21.82 for victory at the sun-baked Olympic Stadium on Saturday, over two and a half seconds slower than the able-bodied men's 200 metres world record.

O'Hanlon was just happy about his exploits, wagging his tongue in approval as he turned to see his time appear on the board to the left of the finish line.

"This is definitely the pinnacle of my career so far. I'll see if I can top it, but I don't think I can. I've got to figure out if there's anything left to prove."

He also has to finish his university degree.

NO MONEY

O'Hanlon is only half way through a three-year landscape architecture course, having started it at the beginning of 2007, such is his commitment to athletics.

However, running earns him very little money and he wants to look to the future.

"I'm not earning a living really from my sport," he said, adding he would like to buy a house and bring his girlfriend to live in Australia.

"My sport is not allowing me to do that at the moment. But hopefully once I've finished my sprinting career I'll be able to find a way of channelling whatever else I'm doing.

"People tend to call me 'competitor', because it doesn't matter what I'm doing I'm always trying to win. Athletics is a fantastic opportunity for me to put that into focus."

O'Hanlon might find it difficult to hang up his running spikes after the vast media coverage of the London Paralympics, which he paid tribute to.

"We're being pushed over the finish line faster with the massive crowds," he said.

(Edited by Matt Barker)

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