Aiming for 2012 glory

LONDON 2012 PARALYMPIC GAMES

Date:
29 August - 9 September 2012
Coverage:
25 hours of programmes and news from the London Games will be broadcast on BBC Radio 5 live, with commentary and analysis on 5 live sports extra and reports on the BBC Sport website
The London Olympic and Paralympic Stadium
The main stadium at Olympic Park will host the Paralympic athletics events

The 2012 we all have talked about for a long time is finally here.

Although it is only one day and a training session or two closer to the Games, something feels slightly mystical about the change in the year.

I know it sounds a bit dramatic, but I remember so clearly the feeling of entering a Paralympic year and, in each of my five Games, at that point you know as an athlete there is no turning back.

Even the most rational mind accepts that not being able to talk about the Games as being "next year" makes it feel different.

New Year's Day will be another training day for many, but the festive period is probably also the last time athletes will have any real chance to spend some quality time with their families before the hectic period ahead.

A couple of weeks ago I was out at Olympic Park with some Paralympic and Olympic athletes from Team 2012 who are hoping to make it to the London Games, and to see it all through their eyes was incredibly exciting.

It is also the closest time in the five years since I retired that I have had those nerves right in the pit of my stomach. There is no doubt that while the exterior and interior of the venues are stunning, it is the finishing touches - things like the trees and plants as well the Games branding, flags and signposting - that will bring it alive.

It is important for the British team, which will number around 300, to be impressed with the facilities, but not blown away by them. They have to concentrate on performing - and winning the medals expected from them.

Athletes like wheelchair racers David Weir and Shelly Woods, cyclists Jody Cundy and Sarah Storey, rower Tom Aggar, swimmers Ellie Simmonds, Sascha Kindred and Susie Rodgers and so many others will be targeting glory in front of their home crowd and hoping to impress the nation with their skill, power, athleticism and determination to win.

A home Games is going to bring some different challenges for all athletes.

For seasoned campaigners, the constant "good luck" from strangers needs to avoid becoming overpowering. For those first-timers, ParalympicGB is working hard to demystify the whole experience, but walking into the village for the first time, even for the most experienced athlete, can bring you to a stop.

I have always said the Games are going to be the best Paralympics we will have seen, and there is nothing that has moved me from that view.

Much is expected of the GB team in London but I am confident they will deliver and we will see some great performances and lots of medals.

One massive success already has been in ticketing for the Games, where there has been unprecedented demand. I applied for the maximum number of 10 sessions and only got tickets for two of them. This is great.

Paralympic champion Sarah Storey
Sarah Storey won Paralympic gold on the track and on the road in 2008

There has never been a Games that has sold tickets this early. We can still do with more spectators but I think that will come.

Although there are many positives, there are still some issues that should not be forgotten when the Games are over.

I'm sure the debate around legacy will continue and, while it can be planned for, not much more can be done until the Games is over.

For me, a better measure of change is the amount of access for the disabled as well as improving attitudes towards disabled people. Accessibility in the built environment still needs much improvement, but I also hope the Games can help ensure the public sees disabled people as included in society.

In the Games arena there will be the ongoing challenges around athlete reclassification. Classification is nowhere near as clear cut as you might assume and there is the potential for negativity in the press if an athlete is moved, especially if they are British.

Yes, there may be athletes who try to push the boundaries, but there are also ones who are genuine borderline cases, and it is a tough call for the authorities to make.

I can understand why a lot work is going on to stop reclassification at Games time, but I think there needs to be some form of sanction to ratchet up the importance of this issue and concentrate each country's mind on getting it right in the first place.

We also need to keep the pressure on regarding funding beyond the Games. It is important to remember the London Games is not the end of the cycle. It is the a step along the way and it is important to ensure funding is maintained to ensure success in Rio in 2016 and beyond.

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