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4 London Paralympics 2012 events to watch: How, why and what you should check out

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The U.S. may have gotten the better of China at this year's 2012 Olympic games in London, but Team USA is having a tougher time at this year's Paralympics. China is well ahead of the rest of the competition, but there's still plenty of gold to dole out yet. 

Don't count on being able to watch them on your set. If coverage of the 2012 Olympics was late and often frustrating for its U.S. audience, live TV coverage of the 2012 Paralympics is pretty much nonexistent. NBC is planning to air a few hours of highlights, but if you're interested in catching the games live, you'll want to head over to the Paralympics 2012 website's live video stream. You can also check their schedule for what's coming up for the day.

No. of Paralympian athletes by state | Full roster of Paralympics Team USA 2012

Californians make up a good chunk of this year's competitors. The state has more Paralympians in the games than any other in the U.S., and the state's played a role in both training and in manufacturing some of the athletes' preferred prosthetics.

Like its Olympic forebear, the Paralympics are about the trials and triumphs of its athletes. In the case of the Paralympians, those stories are as inspiring, heartbreaking and heroic as their better-covered able-bodied brethren. Reporter Corey Moore has highlighted a few of those stories for KPCC, and you can get many more at Team USA's website. 

Some of those stories might help guide your viewing decisions. The Paralympics site has even created a handy and dynamically-updated list of the day's competitors by country — including U.S. athletes — so you can always see which U.S. athletes are up next.

But for those seeking suggestions, we offer a few highlights to watch for this week: 

  • Pistorius v. Singleton v. Peacock: In one of the most anticipated races of the games, South African "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius will be challenged by American Jerome Singleton and British rising star Johnnie Peacock. Pistorius is one of the seminal stars of this year's games, with claims to world records in the T44 100, 200 and 400 meter runs. Singleton has bested him once before in the 100 meter race, though. The former high school football star and NASA researcher Singleton is hungry for another win. Pistorius missed gold in the 200 meter Sunday, but he's still a favorite for the 100 and 400. The competition is scheduled to come to a head Thursday, Sept. 6.
  • Team USA swimmer Jessica Long is another of the London games' Paralympics stars. At 20, she's already won a trove of gold medals. A double-amputee who was adopted from an orphanage in Siberia and grew up in Baltimore, Long made waves when she entered the 2004 Athens Paralympics. The youngest athlete in the competition, she took home three gold medals. She brought home another four in 2008. Her successes have landed her more than a few corporate sponsors, along with a modeling career. She's already picked up three gold medals in London, and she's poised to bring home even more as the water sports continue this week. 
  • The 2012 U.S. Women's Goalball team is 2-1 with victories over Australia and Sweden and a loss to Japan. But Team U.S. could still take it this year. If you're not familiar with the game of goalball, it's a bruising sport that combines the whistling projectiles of dodgeball with the dexterity of soccer goaltending, but specifically designed for the blind. The rules are simple, and the game is played largely by sound. Partially-sighted team members wear specially-designed eyewear to ensure everyone is on the same level — that is, completely in the dark. The ball, slightly heavier than a basketball, is outfitted with a bell, allowing competitors to hear its approach, but it takes a special skill set to dive at a heavy ball traveling upwards of 60 mph. For a brush up on the rules and regs of the game, the IPC offers a video (as does the BBC):
  • Swimmer Bradley Snyder lost his eyesight to an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan in 2011, but in 2012 he's already pretty well on the road to recovery, winning two medals in his first two races. He's on a roll, and he'll be in plenty more races this week.

This year's games are set to be a watershed for the Paralympics. The games were barely covered by major media in years past. And though it's true you'll be hard-pressed to catch live events on network TV in the U.S., the Beeb and other outlets worldwide are giving visibility to the games in ways they never have before.

And it seems to be working. This year's opening ceremony, featuring Coldplay and the Queen, brought three times as many viewers as the 2008 Olympics, according to the Telegraph. And in order to explain the games and their classifications of impairments to new audiences, the BBC brought in a new set of hosts.

Will this be the year that the Paralympics garners an audience large enough to launch Olympic-size stars and sponsorships? BBC host and former Paralympian Rachael Latham seems to think so.

She told PBS's MediaShift blog: "I don't think the public has ever been given the chance to care about the Paralympics. If you aren't given the chance to see something and understand it, you probably won't care." 

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