Repair shop integral part of competition at Paralympics
In this March 13, 2018, photo, John Spillar, second from left, one of Ottobock’s American specialists who previously worked at the Parapan American Games and Invictus Games, works with an unidentified his colleague as Peter Franzel, left top, a director at Ottobock, watches at Pyeongchang’s athletes’ village in Pyeongchang, South Korea. At a white warehouse on a corner of Pyeongchang’s athletes’ village, a team of technicians hustle around the clock to carve, weld and sew ripped things near piles of hands, feet and bionic knees. (Kim Tong-hyung/Associated Press)
By Kim Tong-Hyung?|?AP March 15 at 2:14 AM
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Away from the stadiums, it’s the most hectic place at the Paralympic Games — a white warehouse on a corner of Pyeongchang’s athletes’ village, where a team of technicians hustle around the clock to carve, weld and sew items near piles of bionic hands, feet and knees.
There are also stacked boxes of jumbled wheelchair parts and several huge machines used to repair the equipment that brought hundreds of disabled athletes from around the world to the sleepy ski resort town in South Korea’s rural east.
Here, a team of 23 international specialists employed by Germany’s Ottobock are asked to fix anything and everything — from broken wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs to hockey sleds and sit-skis in need of repair.
The unpredictable and pressure-filled job highlights the vital role of devices at the highest level of disabled sports.
“At the moment, it’s absolutely quiet, but you never know,” said Peter Franzel, a director at Ottobock, during what he said was a relatively calm morning at the repair shop in Pyeongchang this week. “In two minutes, the door opens and 10 athletes come in with a problem and we’re suddenly very, very busy.”
Franzel spoke as a pair of technicians hammered, stretched and sawed off the ski poles of a Swiss athlete who wanted them shortened. Others worked to fix a pair of wheelchair tires and frames.
Ottobock, which has provided exclusive and free repair services to Paralympic athletes since the 1988 Seoul Games, has brought more than 8,000 spare parts to South Korea’s second Paralympic Games in 30 years, including wheelchair components, artificial limbs, knee joints, leather and rubber crutches.
That doesn’t include the thousands of nuts and bolts, many boxes of glue and tape, and a variety of machines for sewing, carving and welding sports equipment and prosthetic limbs. There’s also a high-tech system made of computers, cameras and laser equipment for measuring the balance and fit of the repaired devices.
As of Wednesday, Ottobock’s technicians had handled more than 300 repairs at the Paralympic Games, which began on March 9 and continue through Sunday. The company expects the number of repairs to exceed 400 by the games’ end, said spokeswoman Merle Florstedt.
In addition to the 300-square-meter (3,200-square foot) main repair office at the athletes’ village, Ottobock also operates smaller repair shops at Pyeongchang’s alpine skiing and biathlon venues and a hockey arena at nearby Gangneung