Hyun-derrated: Media fails to reflect paralympics’ popularity

The Olympic Games are arguably the greatest sporting events known to humankind. The Summer and Winter Games, which alternate every two years, include athletes from all around the world. These athletes compete in all different types of sports, including fencing, freestyle skating, rugby and bobsledding. 

Most recently, the 2016 Winter Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, drew an audience of 3.6 billion viewers worldwide — almost half the world’s population. Even though the Summer Olympics tend to be more popular than the Winter Games, people from all over the world tune in to see the best athletes for both. It is the one event that allows people from all different walks of life to come together and experience something common: sport.

Usually, immediately after the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games begin. The Paralympics are similar to the Olympics, but the athletes participating in the former live with disabilities. There are not as many sports played in the Paralympics, but those that are played include snowboarding, archery and wheelchair basketball. 

Unfortunately, after the hype of the Olympic Games, not many people watch or care about the Paralympics. 

I’m guilty of not watching the Paralympics. As a sports fan myself, I enjoy tuning into the Olympics and watching athletes like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt compete and break records every four years. But once the Olympics finish, I can’t remember a time when I’ve consistently followed the Paralympics like I did the Olympics.

The problem wasn’t that it lacked intrigue. Rather, after already watching two weeks of the same sports in the Olympics, I began to lose interest — especially in the month of August, when baseball teams start to make their playoff push and the NFL preseason begins. 

This last year, I decided to watch the Winter Paralympics on a more consistent basis after having watched the Winter Olympics. It was not long before I realized that athletes with disabilities often have an even harder work ethic and even more determination than the professional athletes I had watched the week before. These athletes perform extraordinarily in their events and deserve as much recognition as any other athlete.

Out of curiosity, I researched the ratings of the Olympics compared to the Paralympics that followed. It was shocking to me that the 2018 Winter Olympics was the least-watched Olympics on record, with fewer than 20 million viewers in America and a 7% drop from the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Shockingly, the 2018 Winter Paralympics broke all international viewing records according to paralympic.org. Compared to Sochi 2014, there was a 27.4% international audience increase for PyeongChang 2018, attracting a cumulative audience total of 1.87 billion people who watched the Paralympics outside of PyeongChang. 

In addition, the 2016 Paralympics were viewed by half a billion people more than the Olympics. Compared to the 3.6 billion viewers who tuned into the 2016 Olympics, the Paralympics drew an unprecedented 4.1 billion people.

For an event that continually failed to match the Olympics in terms of viewership, the 2016 Paralympics smashed the 2016 Summer Olympics out of the water.   

USC is known for producing the most Olympic athletes of any university in America. The Trojans currently have 309 Summer Olympic medals, which, if USC was its own country, would rank 14th on the Olympics’ all-time medal list. 

The University is proud of this achievement — as it should be. Whenever I walk onto Cromwell Field, I pass the tall columns of names of USC athletes who have competed in the Olympics. It reminds me of the school’s outstanding legacy. But when I thought about which USC athletes have competed in the Paralympics, I had a hard time thinking of any at all.

After some research, I understood why. Not one Trojan athlete competed in the 2016 Paralympic games, compared to 44 Trojans who went on to compete in the 2016 Olympics. 

In 2012, after USC sent 41 Trojans to the Summer Olympics in London, Eric Hollen was the school’s sole representative at the Paralympics. Hollen competed in the 10-meter and 50-meter air pistol events. 

Maybe USC just doesn’t have many athletes who are eligible to compete in the Paralympics, but hopefully one day the Trojan family can be proud of athletes who compete in both the Olympics and the Paralympics.

I also hope to see more media attention around athletes with disabilities. It’s clear that the Paralympics have been gaining popularity recently, and it’s time for sports coverage to reflect that. When was the last time you saw more than 10 seconds of Paralympics highlights on SportsCenter? 

Also, people should support athletes with disabilities year-round rather than just a few weeks every two years. Whether that’s going to a wheelchair basketball game at a local YMCA or even volunteering at local Special Olympics events, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.

It’s definitely encouraging to see the Paralympics gain so much more attention in recent years. Nevertheless, there is still much more that can be done when it comes to recognizing these athletes that train and dedicate themselves to their crafts just like Olympic athletes. 

Nathan Hyun is a sophomore writing about underrepresented sports. His column, “Hyun-derrated,” runs every other Wednesday.