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Legendary wheelchair racer blazes to 5th gold
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Wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc, Canada's most decorated Paralympic athlete, blazed to her fifth gold at the Beijing Paralympics on Tuesday, wrapping up her fifth and also last Paralympics in a perfect way.

Having raced 10 times in seven days and participated in five races of the fields, Petitclerc described her past week as "like a little Tour de France". But her week-long labour paid off when she matched her feat of winning five races as she did four years ago in Athens.

In her last race, the women's 1500m-T54, on Tuesday, the Canadian veteran had a plain start on the the slippery track after a rain, with her teammate Diane Roy leading the field into the final lap.

In the last 200 meters, she broke away from fellow racers, expanding her lead all the way. In the last several meters, she, with an unbeatable lead, even let go of her hands from the wheelchair's handbars, waving them into the air, leaving the wheelchair roll to the finish line on its own.

"The 1500m is a tactical race. Anything can happen. I knew that I was the strongest, but the track was slippery. I just followed my plan in the race," Petitclerc said after the competition.

"I came here with five golds from Athens and I was prepared to take the challenge. And, today, I realised that I am getting older, but I thought that it was still possible to accomplish. I have tried my best in preparation for the Games," she said.

She admitted she felt a tremendous amount of pressure before the race, adding that she believed "there is no point in worrying who is winning. " "For me, this is a special way to end the Paralympic Games," she said.

When Petitclerc was born in 1969 in a small town in the Quebec region, Canada, no one knew that she would become a world-known athlete. It was not until 1983, after a car accident that paralysed her from the waist down, that she became interested in sports.

In the beginning, she turned towards swimming simply with the goal of staying in shape. Swimming helped her renew confidence and discover a taste for challenge.

However, it was not until several years later, when in training, she met Pierre Pomerleau, a trainer of wheelchair athletes, did she find the path to success. Pomerleau noticed the determination that she demonstrated and encouraged her to follow the path of wheelchair racing.

But the start was frustrating. Using a homemade wheelchair, Petitclerc took part in her first race and came in dead last, well behind the other competitors. However, she had fallen in love with wheelchair racing and a long and fruitful career had begun.

At age 18, Petitclerc participated in her first wheelchair race and returned with the title of Most Promising and a "real" racing wheelchair.

Petitclerc competed in the Paralympic Games for the first time in Barcelona in 1992, returning with two bronze medals, the start of collection that now includes 21 Paralympic medals.

At the Athens Paralympics alone, she swept five gold medals in 100m, 200m, 400m 800m and 1500m races. More impressive, she won the 800m gold medal at the Athens Summer Olympics, where wheelchair racing was an exhibition sport.

For years, the racer has a rigorous training program of four hours daily, six days weekly and 11 months yearly. In spite of a very busy schedule, she finds the time and energy to be involved in several sports or cultural events, including working as a television host.

She told reporters earlier that the Beijing Paralympics would be her last big international event, as she wanted more time to relax and enjoy life. But she will continue training and road racing for a while, she said.

(Xinhua News Agency September 16, 2008)

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