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May 14, 2012
Beijing Olympic shot-putter Assunta Legnante now blind, seeks Paralympic title

LONDON PARALYMPIC ASPIRATIONS Italy's Assunta Legnante competes in the Women's Shot Put Qualification during the 12th IAAF World Indoor Championships at the Palau Lluis Puig on March 8, 2008 in Valencia, Spain. Assunta who is now classified as a Paralympic athlete will compete at the London 2012 Paralympic Games (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
by Claudio Arrigoni, La Gazzetta dello Sport
MILAN, May 14, 2012 - Assunta’s second life will start in London. Her first one stopped in Beijing. Her sporting life that is, as Assunta Legnante has always lived through sport.

For years, she was one of the best shot-putters in Italy and the world, captain of the Italian team at the World Athletics Championships in 2007. The Beijing Olympics were her first and last - “It could have been better”. But that's past history. The future goes via London. Still the Games, but this time the Paralympics - she has been blind for six months - “I can perceive light in my left eye but nothing more.”

Assunta was born with congenital glaucoma in both eyes. “Using lenses, I always saw better with my right eye and saw very little with my left.” She wasn’t allowed to take part in the Athens Olympics and the subsequent Mediterranean Games in 2005 because of the increase in ocular pressure.

In August 2009, she suddenly lost her sight almost completely. “I was in a car and I was going to a meeting in Padua. At a certain point, I couldn’t see anything with my right eye, the better one. Luckily, I wasn’t driving …”. She relied on her left eye for more than two years, but there were no more competitions and sport which had been her life until then.

In November of last year, there was another shock - the retina of her left eye deteriorated. “I had the last operation to remove the cataract on March 9 but it was no good. I’m positive by nature, and sport has helped me in this; I accepted it almost immediately. I said to myself - “It’s happened, worse things happen … My eyes are those of my partner Andrea.”

Meanwhile, she lives with a pension of less than Euro 500 a month, she’s studying to use the computer again (“That and music are my hobbies”) and she went back onto the field a few days ago.

The decision to start again after such a long break is the result of the complicity of Federatletica, FISPES (the Federation of Paralympic and Experimental Sport, which includes athletics), and also the CIP.

A supporter is Luca Pancalli, who was in the Italian Modern Pentathlon team before injuring himself in a fall from a horse, becoming a quadriplegic and then moving to Paralympic swimming. “He was very kind, he wanted to wish me luck, telling me that he sees a bit of himself in my story”.

Assunta competed in the Absolute Paralympic Athletics this past weekend in Turin, the results of which will also be used to qualify for London. She fielded in shot-put and javelin and beat the former record of 11.84m not once but twice, with two amazing throws of 13.24 and 13.27 metres.

She knows Francesca Porcellato and Oscar Pistorius among the Paralympic athletes, “When I took part in the Night Games in Milan, he was there too.” She’s already entered the spirit of those who are able to be ironic about their disability, “I’ve never seen shot-put competitions with blind people. Thinking about it, I think I’ll never see them …”

She was first called up to the national team when she was 15, one of the glories of Snam and Camelot (the most important female athletics society), European Indoor Champion in 2007 and Italian record-holder - remembering who she is, what she’s done and what she could do, we’re talking about the most serious candidate for the Paralympic Gold in women’s shot-putting among the visually impaired. “I don’t know what to expect, there’s a lot going on in my head but I know what I can do - I started training again two weeks ago, without forcing myself and I can throw between 12.50 and 13.50 from standing, and with movement I should improve further. I have to think of myself, not the others.”

From now World Paralympics has another star.



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