Russia’s Paralympians received far more respect from their country's media and society at London 2012 and this could result in a breakthrough for disabled people’s rights, five-time gold medal-winning swimmer Oksana Savchenko said Tuesday.
Disabled people are often marginalized in Russian society, with few dedicated facilities available and basic infrastructure such as wheelchair ramps often lacking.
“The relationship’s changed in the last four years, drastically compared to the Games in Beijing [in 2008], like chalk and cheese,” she said.
“They showed little of our races in Beijing on TV, only mentioned it in the news if we won something.”
Savchenko dominated swimming for visually-impaired women in London with five of Russia’s overall 36 Paralympic golds, but said she was still surprised at the attention she received.
“When I won my first medal in London, everyone wrote tons to me, called me,” she said, adding that the extra attention could give rise to a new, more positive attitude to disabled people.
“We really didn’t expect that there would be such interest in us. But it’s for the better because in our country, I think, we need to instill a new relationship to the Paralympics, disabled people and people with limited abilities.”
Of Russian fans at the Paralympics, Savchenko said “you can’t say that there weren’t a lot of them”, but added that the number of Russians paled in comparison to large crowds for other teams.
Russia is now set to host the 2014 Winter Paralympics in the resort city of Sochi, and this could be crucial to changing social attitudes, Savchenko said.
“We’ll have the Games in Sochi and people will be able to see Paralympic sport live,” she said.
“I think that after Sochi everything will change for the better.”
Russia finished second in the medals table at the London Paralympics behind China and ahead of hosts Great Britain.