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January 7, 2005

Throwing his hat in the ring

From: The Age, Australia - Jan 7, 2005

By Stathi Paxinos
January 7, 2005

Every now and then, a deaf competitor makes it to the top of their sport in the "hearing" world, despite the obvious disadvantage in disciplines such as athletics and swimming. Australian Dean Barton-Smith has done that and is aiming again to reach those heights.

And for the former Olympian, there was no better place than the Deaflympics at Olympic Park yesterday to edge out of retirement and launch his bid for next year's Commonwealth Games.

It was at the 1985 Deaflympics that Barton-Smith first represented Australia, an experience he credits with changing his life and setting him on course for the decathlon at the 1992 Olympic Games and the 1990 and 1994 Commonwealth Games.

So it was an ecstatic Barton-Smith, who will be competing in the field throwing events at this meeting, who needed only his first throw of 13.56 metres in the shot put to qualify for the final. He later won the silver medal.

Profoundly deaf, Barton-Smith retired from athletics in 1996 because of a balance-related illness. He was the first deaf competitor to represent Australia at the Olympics - although a handful of others, such as national breaststroke champion in the 1980s Cindy-Lu Fitzpatrick, had competed at Commonwealth Games.

Barton-Smith said although he no longer had ambitions as a decathlete, he was using his fourth Deaflympics to assess his form and to help him determine whether he could make a successful bid in the javelin for next year's Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. "About two years ago, I started to have a very, very strong itch to come back into sport, probably more because of what was going to happen with the Deaflympic Games in Melbourne, but I always felt maybe I retired a little bit too early, so I've made a progressive comeback and it turned out a lot better than I thought," Barton-Smith said.

Having always had natural talent as an athlete - when Barton-Smith was a high school student, he would successfully compete in 13 events on sport days - he was disadvantaged in sprint events because he could not hear the starter's gun.

"A friend of mine who was also national decathlon champion said to me, 'If you are crazy enough to do 13 events in one day, why don't you do 10 over two?' " Barton-Smith said.

Named joint-captain of the Australian team this week, Barton-Smith said the Deaflympics were an important way to build role models for the two million deaf and hard-of-hearing Australians. "For me personally, I don't want to be first and last person to make the Olympic Games. I want to make sure that there's heaps more coming through, so it's really very important for the country and very exciting as well."

On the track, 15-year-old schoolboy Tae Woung Kim from South Korea claimed the first gold of the carnival when he won the 10-metre air pistol with 659.3 points, from German Dirk Bruns (649.8) and Italy's Fabrizio Severi (644.3). Australia's Joanne Lambert, who holds the 5000 metres deaf sports world record, came fourth in the 10,000 final last night.

Copyright © 2005. The Age Company Ltd.