"Gold" shines on Paralympic trio despite Pistorius affair

While the backdrop to "Gold" is how Kenyan runner Henry Wanyoike, German swimmer Kirsten Bruhn and wheelchair racer Fearnley prepared for the 2012 London Paralympics, the focus is on their personal stories.

Updated: February 16, 2013 12:22 IST
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Berlin: The inspirational story of how three athletes turned their individual disabilities into Paralympic gold won over the audience at the world premiere of "Gold - You Can Do More Than You Think" on Friday.

But despite the stirring narrative, it was impossible to escape the shadow cast by probably the world's best known Paralympian, the South African Oscar Pistorius, accused of the Valentine's Day killing of his girlfriend.

One of the stars of "Gold" admitted he had been shocked by the Pretoria tragedy.

"It's just incredible," Australian wheelchair Paralympian Kurt Fearnley told AFP.

"I met him a couple of times, he seemed like a gentle, kind person. That's someone's daughter, someone's son. It's tragic."

With German president Joachim Gauck and the documentary's three stars in the audience at the 63rd Berlinale, South African director Michael Hammon insisted "It's time for opportunities, not sympathy" for the disabled in our society.

"I've never had an ovation like that for any of my work before," he admitted, clearly moved by the thundering applause for the film and its three stars.

While the backdrop to "Gold" is how Kenyan runner Henry Wanyoike, German swimmer Kirsten Bruhn and wheelchair racer Fearnley prepared for the 2012 London Paralympics, the focus is on their personal stories.

"You can forget about walking," Bruhn recalls being told by a doctor as a 22-year-old in 1991 after being left paralysed following a motorbike accident while on holiday in Greece.

"I looked out the window at the clouds and wanted to be on one. There were moments when you wanted to close your eyes forever, but you have to go on."

Having started competing in 2002, Bruhn won the first of her three 100m breaststroke Paralympic gold medals just two years later in Athens.

"Getting the medal and hearing the anthem was very emotional. The best day of my life was a result of the worst day of my life," she admitted.

Blind since losing his sight as the result of a stroke when aged just 21, Wanyoike recalls how life in his Kenyan village changed forever after he woke up one morning having lost 95 percent of his vision.

"Friends left me as they thought I was cursed. They thought it must have been because of alcohol or drugs, but I have never touched either," said the 38-year-old.

"I thought the best thing would be to die and forget everything."

Having rebuilt his confidence at an rehabilitation clinic, Wanyoike made his Paralympic debut at Sydney 2000, where he won 5,000m gold, only just missing the world record despite virtually dragging his able-sighted guide over the line.

A significant problem later emerged as none of his guides could keep up with him as he went on to run in able-bodied races and became one of the world's fastest long-distance runners.

"He's more than a friend or a brother," Wanyoike said of current guide Joseph Kibunja, who was by his side when they set the 5000m T11 world record on their way to gold at the 2004 Paralympics.

"Since the moment he first won gold, he has never stopped smiling," said Kibunja.

Whether surfing at a local beach or scaling a barbed wire fence using just his body and hands on his parent's New South Wales farm, Fearnley, who was born without the lower part of his back, refuses to let his disability hinder him.

"I've built a life about being independent and strong," said the 31-year-old wheelchair racer who won a marathon gold at both the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

"My main fear is being told I can't do something because I am in a wheelchair."

The trio encountered highs and lows in London, but while Bruhn, 42, admits feeling daunted with retirement looming, Fearnley is focused on the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro and is mentoring promising wheelchair athletes.

Wanyoike is working with young Kenyan long-distance runners and has set up several local initiatives including the Cows 4 Kenya farming project, funded by the Boris Becker Foundation.

"I have lost my sight, but not my vision," he said.

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