Beyond the hype of the London 2012 Olympic Games are the Paralympic Games next year. The sailors are amongst the first of the paralympians to learn of their participation in the second biggest sporting event in the world which will feature twenty sports in total.
Among the selected are contenders Niki Birrell and Alex Rickham who will compete in Skud-18, which is a two-person keelboat event. The partnership has shown great potential together, winning their third world title in the category in July at the IFDS Disabled Sailing World Championships. Elsewhere in sailing, John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Stephen Thomas have been selected for Sonar (the three-person keelboat event) which will take place in Weymouth and Portland next year. Stodel, who claimed the title of first British woman to sail in a Paralympic Regatta in Athens 2004, expressed the words that are on all Olympics competitors’ lips: “It would be a dream come true to win a medal in London 2012, it’s what we’ve been working towards for so long.”
From the barely known Paralympic games of 1952 which held the participation of two nations, the event has blossomed into the upcoming 2012 Paralympic games in which 160 countries worldwide will be involved.
Investment in Paralympic sport has been steadily increasing, encouraging more novice participation in schools and extra-curricular clubs, and more confidence in the progression of intermediate sportspeople to elite level.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Swimming European Championships 2011 in early July saw Team GB claim 83 medals in total; 27 of those being gold, with only Ukraine above them with 105 medals; 41 of which were gold. Susannah Rodgers showed the most promise for Team GB’s Paralympics prospects gaining six medals, five of which were gold, while Eleanor Simmonds and Jonathan Fox broke both European and World Records earlier in the month in the 400m Freestyles – showing promise for their hopes of competing in next year’s Paralympics. Intimidating competition was in full force, however, in the form of Russia’s 20-year-old Paralympic champion Oxana Savchenko, who is currently the fastest female Para-swimmer in the world.
Following the European event is the 2011 Pan Pacific Para Swimming Championships which are taking place in Edmonton, Canada from August 10 -14. The competition will provide a clear reason for Team GB to train hard as mighty Australia, who hold 22 competitors, will no doubt at least provide a glimpse repeat of their 2008 Paralympics success; in which Matthew Cowdrey alone won five gold medals. Another overseas swimmer causing excitement amongst fans is USA’s Mallory Weggeman who has accumulated an astonishing 15 World Records in just three years of competition.
Those eager for the Championships were given a preview of prospective medallists, with the North American Challenge Junior swimming competition in which Canada out-skilled opposition from Mexico and Southern California by winning 60 per cent of all races.
The Paralympic Games will commence on the August 29 2012 and are taking place in London’s brand new Aquatics Centre, where the ‘One Year to go’ celebrations were held. Tickets for the highly anticipated event will go on sale on September 9 following the highly celebrated International Paralympic Day on September 8.