Zeitung Heute : Fans United Fans are a huge part of the Paralympics

Whatever happens – the suporting team on the benches is always enthusiastic and cheerful. By Priscilla Korompis, Stephanie Gustin, Florence Ng and Veronique West

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From all over the place. Canadian (above), Japanese (top right) and German fans are making the games a great party. Fotos: Thilo...

Behind every athlete are their enthusiastic fans, friends, and family. They have travelled from all around the world, from Japan to Great Britain and from Australia to Slovakia, to come and cheer them all on. Through freezing rain, snow, and gale force winds they are all here, unshakable. Some are family and friends, some are merely sports fanatics, but one thing is for sure, the Paralympic Games are never short of energetic fans.

With the sunny weather came an increased number of fans. The stands are filled with people waving flags from all over. Including the Spanish, the Russians, and a whole mass of Canadians. Among them are family members, like Andrea Rothfuss'' mother, Gaby Rothfuss exuberantly dressed in her country''s colours. She came all the way from Baden-Baden, Germany, to wave her gigantic German flag and support her daughter through all kinds of weather. When asked if the – in the first days of the games – discouraging weather deterred the family from coming to sit out in the unprotected bleachers, Rothfuss replied that as bad as it was for the spectators, it was the athletes she felt compassion for. Nevertheless she claims to be enjoying her time in Canada, attending the venues, enjoying what adequate weather there is, and meeting all of the extremely ''friendly'' Canadians.

Down below there are the Brits in their Union Jack jackets. They called themselves the Sean Rose fan club. One of his biggest fans are his parents, Pauline and Bob Rose. They travelled all the way from their town of Redcar, England. Rose''s parents have been to every competition their son has been in. "We are unbelievably proud of his sixth place finish in the 2006 Turin Winter Paralympics", they gushed. Even Sean''s baby boy was there wearing a Union Jack toque sleeping in his stroller.

From Maruahn, Japan, came Kano Akira''s friends, family, and sponsors. Their English might not be perfect but they where just as enthusiastic as anyone else there. They had Japanese flags stretched across a whole row of the stands; some hand-made, others bought but covered in words of encouragement. Yuko Shiramara, a friend of Akira, describes Canada as "very cute!"''

With their huge signs spelling "Lauren", you definitely can not miss her huge group of fans. Her father Mark Woolstencroft was one of them, ringing his cowbell and cheering for his daughter. "Every race is a new race", Mark says, "you really want her to win, but she''s up against a very strong group of women and its not always guaranteed." His doubts were put away, when Lauren won gold and the crowd went wild.

To help with the crowd''s enthusiasm – or perhaps to help manage it when the visually impaired skiers need silence as they race down the slope – are the commentaries. Speaking over the loud speakers they are definitely a keystone piece to the events. These two men have put in countless hours guiding the spectators through the process of the races, the technicalities of the sports, and updating the crowds during the long hours of delays. They have given the alpine races a unique feel, which could not have been achieved without their help. They sure add their own enthusiasm to the event.

Watching the athletes speed down the hill seems to be only half the story. Turning to look back at the stands – where they cannot seem to hold still for their excitement – it is a sea of faces, capped in toques made out of various countries colours. Their screams cheer the athletes on, often becoming so loud that they drown out the commenters'' voices. Only when an athlete falls do they become entirely silent, and even that only lasts until the athlete rises again. Often the cheering is loudest for those who have recovered – or semi-recovered from a severe mistake. The few times the sounds become louder is when they are cheering on the Canadian athletes as they race across the finish line.

Even at the biathlon or cross-country, where the crowds are sometimes smaller there is always a strong assembly of supporters, fans, friends, family, and coaches. Their energy is almost palpable. Scattered throughout are spots of exultant red and white where the Russian fans celebrate the outstanding number of victories their nation has claimed.

Amid the revelry there are assemblies of nations such as Germany who occasionally break out into hearty choruses of approval. Everyday somewhere on the mountain are hoards of avid elementary school students, hailing from Whistler, Squamish, and as far away as North Vancouver

At the women''s 12.5 kilometre biathlon standing was a strong group of family supporters for Canadian paralympian Jodi. Through the sounds of the fans the yell, "go, Mom!" could be heard from her son. "Fantastic", and "very proud" was their answer when asked what they felt while watching Barber skiing. They had been with Barber as she prepared for these Games, taking part in the qualifying races - the International Paralympic Committee World Cups. "She''s only been skiing for five years", says Darren Barber, "and has been skiing with a disability for only two years." Jodie Barber''s two youngest (of five) children, Tim and Grace Hollamber were beaming as their mother descended the slopes. Grace emphasized that the journey of Paralympians is inspiring, showing that "you can do anything" Quoting her mother, she parroted "life is ten percent what happens to you, and ninety percent how you respond to it". Adding her own opinion Grace affirmed "it’s super true".

The fans are a huge part of the Paralympics. It doesn’t matter how well or how badly the athlete does there are always eruptions of cheers, and the loud ringing of cowbells to show the spectator''s appreciation. They let the athletes see – and hear, how much people are thankful for their efforts and that there are always people out there to support them.

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