RIO DE JANEIRO: Dwarfs at the Rio Paralympics are getting the big stage they say they deserve.
Competitors in the women’s 400m swimming this week cited Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf anti-hero of hit TV series “Game of Thrones,” as a breakthrough in pushing back against centuries of mockery or ignorance.
And in Rio de Janeiro — from the pool to the athletics stadium — they’re taking the fight for respect to new levels.
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“People are starting to realize that we’re a lot more capable of, you know, greatness than most people would perceive us to be because of our height,” said US swimmer Reilly Boyt, 20.
Boyt, who has a nose stud and wears tiny star earrings, remembers far fewer dwarfs at the 2012 London Paralympics and “almost nobody” at the World Championships in 2013.
“It’s awesome,” she said of the Rio Games, “because you’re competing against people just like you.”
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On the starting blocks, the diminutive size of the women is startling. Once they dive in, however, the effect of the water and the whirring arms and legs made them appear abruptly different — a lot bigger. “Like giants,” Boyt says with satisfaction.
The International Paralympic Committee was unable to provide figures for the number of dwarfs in Rio, but spokesperson Craig Spence said that “at each Games we are seeing an increasing number.”
Dwarfs can compete in six Paralympic sports — athletics, equestrian, powerlifting, swimming, table tennis and wheelchair tennis.
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Another US swimmer, Sophia Herzog, 19, said it’s been a thrill to compete with “a bunch of dwarfs” in Rio, including Britain’s Eleanor Simmonds, who won gold in the 200m medley, adding to her previous haul of four golds from the Beijing and London Games.
“Hopefully it’s inspiring a lot of other dwarfs,” said Herzog. “We can have a college education. We can have a PhD. We’re competing in the Paralympics — we’re no different.”
The huge popularity of “Game of Thrones” and its cliche-busting character Lannister, played by award winning Peter Dinklage, is seen as a game changer.
“Awesome,” said Boyt. “It’s wonderful,” said Spanish dwarf swimmer Judit Rolo Marichal, “because the man performing in the role is incredible. It has nothing to do with him being small.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2016.
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