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Athlete's sight depends on gold
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08:42, September 16, 2008

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· Paralympics
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If Far East Games silver medalist Svetlana Makeyeva beats the odds and wins the 200m T12 on Tuesday, she will claim the jackpot she needs to pay for a series of expensive injections in her eyes to halt a crippling eye disease.

"I don't think it's possible," she told China Daily over the weekend.

"I've been self-training for these Games and I didn't really get any support or a coach until recently, so a medal will be very difficult."

With her sprinter's physique, model good looks and special forces' combat training, it is difficult at first glance to see how the 26-year-old Kazakh stunner could possibly qualify for the Paralympic Games - until she is within striking distance.

She contracted a disease at the age of 15 that accelerates the degeneration of both retinas, a major handicap that forces her to rely solely on her peripheral vision and map people's features while standing at an oblique angle to them.

"In front of me everything is blank," she said.

"When I sprint, I only see colors, and the track on either side of my feet."

Running blind is as unnerving as it sounds, especially for the long jump, she said.

"I often feel scared," she laughed.

"When I run, I try not to think about the jump, and how dangerous it is. When I don't think about it, I jump better."

Her fear of jumping the gun in her first event, the 100m, caused her to hesitate before unleashing her explosive legs, making her too slow out of the blocks to recover.

Given her low expectations of Sunday night's long jump final, this makes the 200m her last chance to grab the $50,000 promised by her native Kazakhstan in return for a gold medal - so she can save what is left of her eyesight.

"Of course she can run the 200m in a decent time," Vladimir Radosnov, her 72-year-old coach, said.

"But we've really got no idea how fast she'll go. Maybe 28 seconds."

This would put her in easy contention for a regional Paralympic title, but it makes her a long shot for gold medal, or for the $30,000 Kazakhstan is reportedly offering for silver or $20,000 for bronze.

Money is a major issue for Kazakhstan's Paralympic athletes, who are unpaid, and Makeyeva is no exception.

A pair of lenses back home costs in the region of $800, while the injections she needs cost 1,200 euros each and require a return flight ticket to one of several European destinations.

She needs 20 injections - 10 in each eye.

All of which puts Makeyeva heavily in the spotlight, as the only person under 45 in the country's three-person Paralympic squad.

The other two, a male swimmer and female weightlifter, are veterans from the Soviet Union era.

However, even this small and aging squad is a major step up from four years ago in Athens, where several of Makeyeva's compatriots had to petition the Ministry of Sports to let them go there on the back of private sponsors.

Makeyeva was destined to be an athlete.

She was already involved in volleyball, gymnastics and dancing before her eyesight started to deteriorate.

"I worry about her health," her coach said.

"She's strong enough, but it all depends on her eyes. I don't want to overstrain her, so we cut a lot of training sessions to make it safer."

"The important thing is that she must not focus only on the result, but rather the techniques I taught her," Radosnov said.

"Then we could get a result."

Source: China Daily

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