Although the torch in Beijing will be passed on to London for the 2012 games at Sunday's closing ceremony, the spirit of Olympic competition will not be over. The 2008 Paralympic Games begin Sept. 6 at the same facility, and a local Wabash Valley resident will be there.
It's a busy time for Jason Irving, 34, Clinton.
Yesterday was his son Kristian's seventh birthday, today is he and his wife Judy's 11th wedding anniversary and he's leaving for England where he will ultimately represent his country in the power lifting events at the games.
"At least I get to spend time with them before I leave," CARS Program Assistant Irving told The Brazil Times during a break in "Olympic Day" and luncheon in his honor at the Clay Center Learning Center Friday afternoon. "I'm spending Sunday with my parents in Manchester, London, and then I'm leaving for training camp in Macau on Monday."
Ranked fourth in Great Britain, Irving is competing in the 123-pound weight division of the power lifting events.
During his 16-year career of weight lifting, Irving has missed only four competitions and attempted to be placed on two previous paralympic teams.
Irving was diagnosed with pseudo-achondroplastic dwarfism at age five, which limited his participation in sports activities while "growing up in a tall world." At 4-foot-9-inches tall, he can bench press more than three times his body weight.
"Doctors said I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was 14, but I refused to sit down," he said. "I never got to compete in school sports because I was never selected. School officials were worried I would get hurt. But I was ambitious, and I wanted to get to the paralympics. I wanted to be good enough to compete against the best at something."
While trying out a couple of different sports to find his niche, Irving discovered power lifting.
"I didn't have the aptitude for the others, but I could do the bench press," he said.
After a year of training, at age 19, Irving participated in his first international weight lifting competition and continued to compete in various sporting events around the world for dwarfs. At a dwarf sporting competition in America in 1995, Irving's roommate introduced him to his wife, who was competing in the swimming events.
He excelled and ranked high enough to qualify for Great Britain's paralympic team.
However, paralympic team managers felt he was too young for the 1996 Atlanta team and sent a senior weight lifter in his place.
"It's understandable. You're at the Olympics and you can reach out and touch your heroes," Irving said, explaining that the paralympic games are just as impressive as the Olympics. "A young competitor can get lost in all the excitement of the games and lose focus. That is where a senior competitor comes in handy. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. They can help calm the young lads and girls so they can do the best they can."
Irving missed making the 2000 Sydney paralympic team because of weight limitations in the 132-pound weight division.
"I missed it by a few pounds. That was a watershed moment for me," he said. "Now I make it a point to know everything I'm supposed to before the competition. My coach keeps me on track now, if I'm not she gives me a good whack."
But Irving made it to the paralympic games in Athens in 2004.
"When you walk into the stadium during the opening ceremonies and there are a 100,000 people cheering and cameras flashing, and it's all for you and your team, the exhilaration that you feel is awesome. If someone could bottle that and sell it, they would be rich. I just can't describe in words what that moment is like."
Training at the Seventh Street Gym in Clinton with expectations of winning a gold medal, Irving will be attempting to bench press at least 400 pounds on Sept. 11.
Mike Whiteman and Rick Mosley have been training with me for the past year," he said. "They have been such a great help, and all for an outsider who has only lived here since 2006."
With his heaviest lift in competition being 396 pounds and he's currently lifting 405 pounds during training, Irving believes he can capture the silver medal with a solid 400-pound lift in the second round. Afterwards, that is when Irving believes strategy will play a major role in taking on his biggest competitor for the gold.
"A Chinese man is consistently lifting 415. If I've sealed the silver by the second lift, then I'm going for the gold on the third," Irving said. "I'm going to be focused. Can I be good enough to win gold? I'll find out then. If I'm not, then I know that I have left no stone unturned in my pursuit."
Although the Paralympics receive media attention throughout the world, coverage in the United States is limited. Irving believes it is a shame that more Americans are not interested in sports at the international or paralympic level.
"These athletes are doing fantastic and incredible things at sporting events," Irving said. There will be 17 days of incredible sporting events during these games and it is a shame that more people in America will not see that."