Done The Swimming, Now For The Volleyball
Sydney Morning Herald
Friday October 13, 2000
He's such a competitive and talented sportsman that he is about to represent Australia in his third Games. Greg Hammond spoke to Philip Derriman.
Greg Hammond keeps coming back to the Paralympics, and in different guises. In Sydney, his home town, he will compete in his third Games, in his third sport and, for once, with all his family looking on, which for him will be the biggest high of all.
All this requires explanation. Hammond, who was born with a shortened right forearm, is just 33, yet his Paralympic story starts way back at the Games of 1984, when as a 17-year-old he won four gold and three silver medals as a freestyle swimmer.
He backed up again as a swimmer at the 1988 Games at Seoul, winning two gold and one silver but after that his sporting career began to take some unexpected turns.
The truth was he had done everything in swimming he wanted to do and decided to look for another challenge. Sailing, one of his favourite sports while growing up in the Manly area, was his next choice, and he fixed his sights on a long-term goal of competing in the regatta at the Paralympics.
For a while, all went well. Sailing was introduced as a demonstration sport at the 1996 Paralympics at Atlanta, and Hammond was one of a Sonar crew that competed in a pre-Games regatta in Florida that year, finishing ninth out of 18.
Ninth wasn't considered quite good enough, however, and Hammond's crew did not make it to Atlanta, so they set their sights on Sydney 2000. Again, all went well for a while but in November last year one of the crew found he couldn't afford the time and money needed to keep going and pulled out.
Hammond and the others had no hard feelings about this. The crew member concerned was self-employed and they accepted that winning a gold medal in Sydney wasn't worth losing a business over. But his withdrawal meant the crew had to be disbanded.
That ought to have been the end of Hammond's 2000 Paralympics hopes but out of the blue another opportunity presented itself. Hearing that the sailing crew had folded, an old friend of Hammond's contacted him and invited him to get involved in the Paralympic volleyball campaign.
Hammond did, and became enthused. His height (196cm) gave him an important advantage, and he played the game with natural flair. Suddenly, he found himself back in the Paralympics as a member of the so-called ``standing" volleyball team, as distinct from the wheelchair team.
The team, consisting of both arm and leg amputees (Hammond is classified as a congenital arm amputee), is a relatively raw and inexperienced one, and it probably would not have made it to the Games if it had not had automatic entry as the host-nation side.
Seven other nations will compete Germany, who are trying for their third gold medal in a row, the United States, Canada, Poland, Britain, Cambodia and Israel and if the Australians finish fifth or better, they will be satisfied.
Hammond, a mechanical engineer, said it would be an honour to compete in Australian colours in front of an Australian crowd, yet for him this wouldn't be nearly as important as competing before his two children, other family and friends, the people who have supported him and the other Paralympic athletes all the way through.
``I'll be honest about it: for me it's family and friends first and the nation second," he said. ``They're the people who've followed you over the years and stuck by you. For them to be there to see what you do: well, there just aren't words to describe it."
Another big plus for him will be the exposure the Paralympics will receive. ``People don't really know what they're all about," he said. ``When they see them in Sydney, their perspective will change dramatically."
This exposure would benefit not only the disabled athletes of today but of tomorrow, too people who are able-bodied now but who probably because of an accident will be potential Paralympic athletes by 2004 when the next Games are held. ``It may sound cruel but that's the reality of it," Hammond said. ``They will find that sport can play a big part in their rehabilitation."
Two versions, more competitors
6 DAYS TO GO
Birthdate: May 10, 1967
Personal Goals: To be successful at all times
Sporting Goals: To have fun
Hobbies: Sailing, golf and rugby
Teamwork is vital in this Paralympic sport, which is divided into two events standing and sitting volleyball. The two versions open the game to athletes with different levels of mobility impairments. The main difference between traditional standing volleyball and the sitting version is a smaller court and a lower net this makes the game fast-paced and highly skilled.
(Source: Australian Paralympic Committee website www.paralympic.org.au)
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