The Big Read (Paralympics)

Peter Eriksson: Britain's athletes are making great progress to the London 2012 Paralympics

Peter ErikssonReflecting on the last 12 months, I can confidently say that 2011 was a long, but hugely successful year, mainly due to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Championships taking place out of season in New Zealand in January.

I can't actually believe that, this time last year, we were coming to the end of a month-long stay in the southern hemisphere. Time certainly flies when you're having fun.

We didn't just sit back and relax though. As we moved into this year's Paralympic Games, it was important that we increased the base level at which our athletes competed. I'm confident that we've now done that. We've achieved this because of more competition opportunities – we now have high quality international Disability Athletics Grand Prix events in Knowsely (Liverpool) and London – but also because of the commitment from the athletes and the no-excuses environment in which we're operating.

Not only did our athletes deliver on the global stage, but they continued to deliver high quality performances throughout the summer. Overall, our achievements over the past 12 months have been outstanding. Our results, both at junior and senior level, are evidence of that.

We finished third in the medal table at the IPC World Championships in 2011 with 38 medals made up of 12 gold medals, 10 silver and 16 bronze. By way of comparison, we won 27 medals in the same event in Assen in 2006, including nine gold and perhaps, most notably going into a Paralympic year, we finished 18th in the medal table at the Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008 – so our performance progress is significant.

This is not a short-term project, however. And while the support we have from UKA (UK Athletics), National Lottery and our key sponsor Aviva, gives every athlete the opportunity to demonstrate their ability and prepare in the best possible environment, the medal targets set by UK Sport ensure that once funded, athletes must maintain exceptionally high standards going forward.

2012 is my third full year at UKA. We're now starting to see the gradual transition to a much more professional squad with a fantastic team spirit and it's paying off.

I'm confident that our success will continue through to London, although it will take a lot of hard work to match our performance in New Zealand in front of capacity home crowds, where our athletes are expected to perform to their maximum. Not only that, but every other nation will have stepped up their preparation and performance goals in this quickly evolving and fast-improving sport.

Overall the strength and depth of the squad has improved and that's a huge positive. We've seen a tremendous increase in the number of new athletes coming into the sport and, in particular, those that we've been able to fast track from development through to Aviva GB & NI representation at junior and senior level.

Much of that is thanks to the Aviva Parallel Success and Talent Programmes driven by Paula Dunn and Katie Jones at UKA. Paul Blake, a T36 400 metres, 800m and 1500m runner is a great example. He made his full international debut at the IPC Athletics World Championships in January 2011 and won 400m gold and silver in both the 800m and 1500m. He then broke the T36 world record in the 800m – one of several world records for our athletes in 2011 – at the London Disability Athletics Grand Prix in August 2011.

Importantly, our athletes were competitive throughout 2011. Following the IPC Athletics World Championships, David Weir (pictured) went on to win his record fifth London Marathon title in London in April, the Aviva GB & NI juniors won a record 45 medals – including 23 gold medals – at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sport Federation (IWAS) World Junior Championships (also in April) and Shelly Woods finished second in both the London and New York marathons in November.

Peter Eriksson is the UK Athletics Paralympic head coach for the Paralympics and former coach to Chantal Petitclerc of Canada, the most successful Paralympic track and field athlete in history. He is widely considered to be one of the best Paralympic athletics coaches in the world. In total, his athletes have won 119 medals in Paralympic Games.

David Gold: Wheelchair basketball draw makes it feel like London 2012 really has started

David Gold_head_and_shouldersFor all the sponsors launches, London 2012 related events and even the sale of Olympic and Paralympic tickets themselves, the real excitement really comes out when the draws for the Games take place.

On Saturday night, the wheelchair basketball draw was made in Aylesbury, at an appropriate location near Stoke Mandeville, where the Paralympic Games were 'born' back in 1948 – the last time London hosted the Olympics.

It was an evening of some considered style, though as I walked into the Waterside Theatre, I discovered that it was also a monopoly themed event. The table plan for the dinner took the form of a monopoly board, with each table representing a different group of properties. Presumably this was part of the general theme around London, as the host city of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

In the event, I was sat on the yellow table, which was pleasing. The trio of Leicester Square, Coventry Road and Piccadilly usually serve me well, but I just felt sorry for those stuck on the Whitechapel and Old Kent Road table.

Speeches came and went as British stars of past and present took to the stage to give their thoughts on this summer's Games. The draw, scheduled for between the main course and dessert, was then put back to after the meal.

That slight scheduling alteration aside, the evening was well organised and run smoothly, with the conversation, wine and food flowing. It had a wedding feel to it, with photographers running around, everyone seated at round tables and tuxedos everywhere. The food was fantastic – the tarte-tatin served for dessert would have had Gregg Wallace drooling – though admittedly, so would a sugar infused cube of butter. There were even cheese plates. I can't remember the last time I had a cheese plate but it was more than welcome, apart from the unspeakably awful orangey blue creation which had most of the table reaching for the water jug.

The food aside, finally the moment we had waited for arrived. As the draw began to be made, all eyes were on the big screen behind GB stars Simon Munn and Amy Conroy, who were drawing balls from the pot. Or pots. An interesting mechanism had been devised, whereby each team were paired to ensure the balance of the groups was as fair as possible.

So in the men's draw, Spain and Germany were paired, as were Italy and Canada, the United States and Colombia, Turkey and Poland, Australia and Japan, and finally, Britain and South Africa. When each pair was drawn, then either a red or yellow ball would be drawn to signify which of the two teams would be playing in which pool. So if Spain and Germany were drawn, and then a yellow ball was pulled out, Germany would go into pool A, and Spain into B. Confused? So was I. I'm still not sure if I've explained it correctly. Finally, as the host nation Britain would get to choose which pool it competed in.

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After an explanation which left most confused, and FIFA look like masters of explaining draw procedures, finally we got underway.

Out came Spain and Germany, the former went into Pool A and the latter into B. Italy and Canada were the next out. Italy went into A, and Canada into B. Pool B was beginning to look like the tougher section, with the 2008 silver medallists Canada tricky opposition and Germany a handful.

Then the United States and Colombia were drawn, and tension suddenly filled the room. British Wheelchair Basketball members were whispering their hope that the USA would go into B. The idea of one really tough group and one easy becomes quite appealing when you get to choose which you compete in.

And so it was B. A collective sigh went up, which was compounded when reigning champions Australia found their way into Pool A alongside the Americans, with Japan going into B. Once Turkey and Poland had been syphoned off into A and B respectively, finally it was Britain's turn to choose.

Out of nowhere, suddenly the Countdown music began. Britain were being given the time it takes for Carol Vorderman to calculate how to make 834 with no numbers larger than 10 to decide between two fairly well matched pools.

The choice? "C".

It's impossible to conduct a serious affair, say a draw for the biggest Parasport event on earth, without the predictable jest that comes with it. Britain eventually chose Pool B, and everyone seemed happy. Apart from South Africa, of course, consigned to Pool A as a result.

The women's draw was conducted with slightly less frivolity. Into Pool A went Australia, Canada and Netherlands. Into B were China, the United States and Germany. The fourth pair were Brazil and France. The coloured ball was drawn and even the technical people assigning each team to their respective pools on the big screen couldn't work out which one to put each in. Finally, a re-draw was averted and Brazil put into A, and France to B. Britain chose A, unsurprisingly, given that they keep coming unstuck against the 2008 gold medallists the USA.

Immediately, talk of the games to come began and whether Britain could win medals this summer – and in which colour. The anticipation of the sporting event to come is always missing something until groups are filled and predictions can be made. And with that, it felt as though in some small way, the Paralympic Games have begun.

David Gold is a reporter for insideworldparasport. You can follow him on twitter here.

Sir Philip Craven: London 2012 will be something quite amazing

Sir Philip_Craven_in_front_of_Paralympic_flagWe are now into the third week of 2012 and I still feel the same levels of excitement that I experienced when I watched on television the stunning fireworks display in London that marked the start of Paralympic year.

And what a year I believe we have in store.

The year ahead has the potential to propel the Paralympic Movement to new, unimaginable levels.

I think what happened in Beijing in 2008 surprised many people. However, as we approach the magical 200-days-to-go marker on February 11, I believe the level of expectation for London is much higher than it was for Beijing.

I am extremely confident that Seb Coe and his excellent team at LOCOG will deliver a very different Games from Beijing, taking the best aspects of previous Games to create something quite amazing that could surpass what was achieved in 2008.

With the whole Paralympic Movement working together, I believe we can deliver something very special in London, which would be fitting as Great Britain is the country where the whole Paralympic Movement started in 1948.

It's hard to believe that it was just 64 years ago that Sir Ludwig Guttmann gathered a handful of injured servicemen and women on a patch of grass behind Stoke Mandeville Hospital for an archery competition.

Back then, I doubt anyone would have predicted that London in the year 2012 would host 4,200 athletes from 160 countries competing in 20 sports.

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Thanks to Sir Ludwig Guttmann's vision and the continued excellent work of our members and athletes, we have the opportunity to write the next chapter in the exceptional success story of the Paralympic Games in London later this year.

Aside from London in 2012, the IPC will continue to work hard with the organisers of future Paralympic Games. We will also implement lots of activity in conjunction with our members to achieve the six strategic goals outlined in the IPC strategic plan launched last year.

The Paralympic Games always creates mass awareness for the Movement and it is vitally important that we use them to help increase participation at all levels to ensure that for future Games there is a greater depth of talented athletes across all sports.

To help create greater awareness of the Paralympic Movement, the IPC will launch a new-look website in the next few weeks. It will be the culmination of months of planning and hard work with our Worldwide Partner, Atos. Having seen a sneak preview of the website at December's IPC Governing Board meeting, I am sure it will not only service the needs of our members but attract new followers to the Movement.

For the first time ever, we will have everything housed under one roof – videos, photo galleries, history, results, biographies – everything you need to know or would like to know about the Paralympic Movement all in one place at

Finally, may I wish all our athletes, coaches, administrators, officials and volunteers all the best for 2012 - a year that promises so, so much.

Sir Philip Craven is the President of the International Paralympic Committee

Tom Degun: Focus should remain on evolving Paralympics before launching Youth Games

Tom Degun_Innsbruck_2012The inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games here in Innsbruck is so far proving a success, just as the first Summer Youth Olympic Games in Singapore did two years ago.

Admittedly the event in Innsbruck is neither the size nor scale of Singapore 2010 but there is certainly the same fun atmosphere at all the sporting events and the unspeakably beautiful backdrop of the snow covered mountains in the Austrian city certainly rivals the impressive skyscrapers that have become a feature of the Southeast Asian city-state.

So while there are obvious differences, there are clear similarities, one of the most poignant of which is the continuing question of when will there be a Youth Paralympic Games?

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, the main credited as coming up with the idea of these Youth Olympics, is adamant that the creation of such an event lies firmly with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

"Well as you know, the International Paralympic Committee is totally autonomous," he said when I asked him the question at a press conference.

"The Paralympic Committee does not take direction from the International Olympic Committee.

"We work very closely with them and we give them great support.

"But it is up to them to decide what they want to do."

For their part, the IPC admit that while it is something they are certainly considering, it is not a realistic goal right now because they are not, by their own admission, able to pump the huge financial resources into the event that the IOC are.

"It may happen one day but not now," the IPC chief executive Xavier Gonzalez told me the last time we spoke on the subject.

"The Youth Olympic Games is a great initiative from Jacques Rogge but evidently it is based on the ability the IOC has to be able to put together an event of such a big size in such a short time, which they did.

"We have not had any major discussions with the IOC about a Youth Paralympic Games.

"The IOC obviously focuses on its own Youth Olympic Games and has been totally respectful of the IPC in creating the first edition of the Youth Olympic Games.

"Even for an organisation like the IOC, it was a significant challenge to create the Youth Olympics.

"But for the IPC at moment, our main focus is on the Paralympic Games itself, which is still evolving."

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Despite some disappointment that there is no Paralympic competition to enjoy at the Youth Olympics, Gonzalez is undoubtedly right to focus the resources of the IPC on the Paralympics and specifically London – which by all indications should be a phenomenal event both for London and for the Paralympic Movement.

The superb International Paralympic Day in Trafalgar Square last September provided a glimpse of just what might happen if you get young children trying out wheelchair basketball or meeting their favourite athletes.

Four time Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius of South Africa, who was one of the top stars in Trafalgar Square, has now become a household name and his mouth-watering T44 100 metres showdown with America's Jerome Singleton show prove every bit as enthralling as its Olympic counterpart when – providing he doesn't false start – Usain Bolt should be relatively untroubled by anyone other than his own world record of 9.58 seconds.

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Throw into that Britain's biggest gold medal hopes, such as wheelchair racer Dave Weir and cyclist Sarah Storey, and the fact that that Britain should well finish in the top two on the overall medal table ,and get an exciting event that should enthral the home nation.

The event already looks likely to be sold out across the board in what would be an unprecedented feat and IPC President Sir Philip Craven has already stated that we could be in for something a bit special come London 2012.

"The year ahead has the potential to propel the Paralympic Movement to new unimaginable levels," he predicted in a New Year's Eve message.

"London is shaping up to match and maybe surpass what was achieved in Beijing, which is something I never thought possible.

"This is a big, big year, not just for the IPC but for the whole Movement, International Sporting Federations, National Paralympic Committees, Regions and founding federations.

"Together we can deliver something very special in London, and wouldn't it be fitting to deliver the best ever Paralympic Games in the country where it all started."

So while we may be left to wait some time for a Youth Paralympics, perhaps we shouldn't be too disappointment with London 2012 around the corner.

It will provide a true feast of Paralympic sport and just like the Youth Olympics; it will be able to turn relatively unknown teenagers into true superstars – just as the Beijing 2008 Paralympics did to certain 13-year-old swimmer by the name of Ellie Simmonds.

Tom Degun is a reporter for insideworldparasport and insidethegames who is currently attending the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck 

Josh Cassidy: My hard work to secure Paralympic gold is well underway

josh cassidy_10-01-12Whilst the New Year saw everyone out partying and all my friends and competitors counting down the clock to 2012, I wanted to be inside, bashing out a vital extra workout to bring in 2012.

So as opposed to being in a bar or out on the street with my friends, I was stripped to the waist, working up a sweat on my training rollers in the gym in my condo in Toronto.

My heart is set on London 2012 Paralympic gold and for that reason, I counted down the last seconds of 2011 alone, hammering out every last ounce of energy on the battered push rims of my high tech racing wheelchair.

Now that we are finally in 2012, I know that I must really discipline myself if I am to reach my gold medal(s) resolution and that is why I am ready to make these sacrifices.

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I even made a video to show how I spent the last seconds of 2011 training and my video is available to view here.

It shows a one minute countdown to the New Year with footage of me sweating it out.

As the clock strikes 12 and party revellers kiss to Auld Lang Syne, I can be seen in lactic overload, trying to push my body to a new personal best.

I think the video shows quite clearly what the New Year means for me; particularly in terms of my athletic ambition and making it to the podium at London 2012.

Paralympic wheelchair racer Josh Cassidy is set to be one of Canada's biggest medal prospects at London 2012. The 26-year-old from Ottawa was left in a paralysed after he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, cancer in the spine and abdomen just weeks after his birth. He has gone on to compete for Canada at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games and arguably his biggest victory came when he won the 2010 Virgin London Marathon.

Jody Cundy: Last year was great but I'm really excited now it's 2012

Jody Cundy_profileLast year has to be one of the quickest I can remember and it all started with a training camp in Majorca.

This was part of my preparations for the World Track Championships and we were treated to some great weather which was especially welcome as the day we left the UK, it was snowing. I managed to get some quality miles in during the camp, these miles would prove to be valuable to the rest of the season, especially as I'd added the 4 kilometres pursuit to my racing programme.

With two training camps back to back in Newport on my return to the UK, preparations for the World Champs were almost complete. So it was off to Italy, and a chance to race again on the world scene. First up was the 4km pursuit, an event I'd only ever ridden two or three times before, and never really mastered. However with all the extra endurance work of the previous year, I pulled out a massive 20 second personal best in qualifying to make it to the gold medal ride off against Jiri Jezek.

I got a little too excited in the final starting off way too quick, and soon paid for my fast start, but a silver medal at the World Championships in a new event put a smile on my face. The following two days of racing were business as usual as I returned to the events I know and love, the kilo and team sprint. I surprised myself in the kilo, breaking my world record by three-tenths of a second, which considering a lot of my focus had been on pursuit in the run up to the competition, it was a welcome surprise.

The final day of competition was the team sprint, and with the rules changing regarding composition of the team almost at every event I was part of a new line up. This time, myself, Darren Kenny (pictured centre) and Terry Byrne (right) lined up against the Chinese team in the final. With both teams breaking the world record in qualifying it was always going to be a good race, and sure enough the level of competition pushed us to another world record. Although this only stood for about two weeks before the rules were changed once again by the UCI.

Jody Cundy_with_teammates_after_winning_world_title
So track worlds were a success, I came away with two world records, two gold medals and a surprise silver, it was a great way to start the year especially with the London Paralympics just over a year away.

Upon returning home from the World Championships I had my first race in the colours of Para-T, the team I'd set up with my girlfriend. It was a great debut for the team, and really helped raise awareness to the standard of Para-cycling.

With no break in training my focus switched to competing on the road, as I travelled to Sydney for the first round of the UCI Para-Cycling World Cup. I was there to score qualification points for GB, these points are essential as without them the team may have to make tough decisions on who they take to the Paralympics next year. The racing in Sydney was a shock to the system but an eighth in the road race and a sixth in the time trial were all valuable points.

On my return from Australia the road miles started to build up, as did the competitions. Next up was a block of racing in multiple countries as I continued my qualification points quest, first up was Piacenza in Italy, with a fifth place overall and one of my favourite races of the whole year, then it was a quick drive to Switzerland for another two-day race in Gippingen. Before then joining up with the GB squad and heading out to Segovia in Spain for the second round of the UCI World Cup, although I struggled in the road race I scored more important points in the time trial. With my little road trip almost to an end it was a quick flight over to Glasgow, where I joined a few other members of the GB squad to take part in the middle four days of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain.

With all the travelling and racing, my body was getting pretty tired, but it was all important miles in my legs, and I hoped that these would prove valuable for 2012.

With a quiet period without any races for a few weeks I could get on with a few other things that had come my way, first up was a photo shoot for Sky, as I'd just been signed up to their Sky Sports Scholarships programme, they were going to offer financial and media support in the run up to 2012. In the same week as the Sky photo shoot I made my way down to London, where I was meeting with Fiona Banner, a Turner Prize winning artist. She had been commissioned to produce 1 of 12 posters for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and I was to be the subject of her poster. It was quite a daunting process as Fiona has a technique were she paints with words, and I was to model nude (only slightly scary!). But I thought about the posters that you still see from Olympics past, and thought it was definitely worth being part of history, so that was it, there I was stood naked in Fiona's studio! To be honest after the initial shock it wasn't so bad, and by the end I was pretty comfortable, however I don't think I'll be turning to life modelling anytime soon, although at least I know what's involved now!

The next challenge for me was the National Time Trial Championships, and although the event was undersubscribed it still proved a tough test as it took in a few climbs which were 14-16 per cent in gradient, not exactly what you want in the middle of a time trial, and definitely not suited to me, but I came out with a fourth place, which although wasn't great, I couldn't give anymore.

With only a few weeks to help fine tune my preparations I was on the way to Roskilde Denmark for the World Road Championships, in the pursuit for more qualification points. First up was the time trial, and two laps of the 15.2km course. I tried to measure my effort over the course so I would have enough left in the second lap, but as I crossed the finish line on the 1st lap I was overtaken by my minute man and was starting to struggle and lost my rhythm. By the time I managed to find it again, I was well on the way to finishing the course! 12th place in the end, not too disappointed, but would have been nice to make it to the top 10 and score a few points.

After a day of rest and recovery it was an early start for the road race. five laps of the TT course, as the course was relatively flat it was difficult to make the break and get away. However a small group of C5 athletes did just that along with one C4. The race came down to a bunch sprint for second place, and although with my speed I was in a good place to get a result, with less than 1km to go I struggled in the bunch for position. I really didn't want to risk crashing and ruining my 2012 preparations, so I pulled out of the bunch and let them go. I think if I was an out and out road racer it would have been a no brainer and I would have been in that sprint for the finish, however I'm not at the moment, but who knows in years to come.

Off the bike I was busy again, doing some filming and photo's for Alexander Mann Solutions who have agreed to support and sponsor me in the run up to the Paralympics, and beyond. Another project I've been involved in is with Sainsbury's and Channel 4. I was one of 10 athletes they decided to profile in the run up to the games over three short films. The first went out in the summer and the remainders go out in 2012. They were good fun filming, and I can't wait to see the outcome as the first film looked great.

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With the Worlds over it was time to get back to the velodrome, and a few weeks of preparation before the National Track Championships. The first part of the preparation was a three-day block of training on the Olympic Velodrome in London, it was a valuable experience and I now know what to expect come the Paralympics.

The Nationals were a great start to the track season, I placed fifth in the open kilo in the fastest time I've posted at a season start. I also had a great ride with Jon-Allan Butterworth and Terry Byrne in the open team sprint coming in fifth place also. However the highlight of Nationals was my flying 200m world record in the open sprint qualification, a time of 10.805 and good enough to place me 11th overall.

With Nationals done for another year I found myself in another photo studio. This time I was there for the Royal Mail getting my picture taken for a series of Olympic and Paralympic stamps that will be released later this year

I finished my year the way I started it, on a training camp in Majorca. I made the best of the good weather and got all my endurance base miles in prior to the World Championships which are next month, everything went well apart from the flight home, which got cancelled, but made it back the following day with a little help from my brother and dad!

The finale to 2011 ended with me being named the BBC East 2011 Disability sports personality of the year, something I'm very proud of.

So 2011 has been a busy year filled with a lot racing, travelling and promotion, and 2012 promises more of the same, plus the added bonus of a home Paralympic Games, something to get really excited by!

Thanks to my sponsors, friends, family and especially my girlfriend Christina, who have helped make it happen.

Here's to 2012!

Jody Cundy was born with a deformed foot which was amputated when he was three-years-old. He represented Britain three times in swimming at the Paralympic Games from 1996 to 2004, winning three gold and two bronze medals. He then switched to cycling in 2006, before winning gold at Beijing 2008 to become one of only a handful of athletes that have become Paralympic champions in two different sports. Visit his website here and follow him on twitter

Wilfried Lemke: London 2012 can continue to break down barriers towards those with disabilities

Wilfried Lemke_profileThere are many ways of bringing people closer together, such as music or culture. Sport too has this unique capacity to transcend barriers. It is a wonderful equaliser and can certainly place everyone on a level playing field.

Exclusion, in our societies, is not inevitable. We have tools at our disposal and sport is one of them.

Sport can change what communities think and feel about persons with a disability and what persons with a disability think and feel about themselves.

I saw this happening first-hand in Beijing where before the Games, a large part of the estimated 19 million people with a disability living in China were being excluded from society.

The Paralympic Games opened the doors for them and their families. Sport opens doors not only to the athletes but to a whole host of other people around them. In that sense, the Beijing Games were a tremendous success for the Paralympic Movement.

Access to sport, physical activity and play is a fundamental human right for everyone.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is a very important actor not only in the field of competitive sport but also in the promotion and support of rights for persons with a disability. This is the crossroads where the United Nations and IPC stand firmly united.

We need to fully understand that inclusion is not just a theoretical concept. It is what changes the daily lives of millions of vulnerable persons around the world. That is why more needs to be done worldwide to turn this into a reality for everyone.

For this to happen, a key aspect is to get more media coverage for the athletes practicing parasport. Only by showcasing their talents and educating the public about what the athletes can achieve will people realise that disability is not an obstacle and that it can be overcome, through perseverance, solidarity and respect.

Only then will people realize that there is not a person with a disability and a person without a disability. We are all one.

Wilfried Lemke is a Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace

Liam O'Reilly: This is a great time of year for me to do extra training

Liam OReillyFirst I guess I should introduce myself – I am Liam O'Reilly, a wheelchair tennis player first and foremost, and a third year Sports Psychology student at Roehampton University.

I have a career high world ranking of 20 and I am currently around the top 35 mark in singles and top 25 in doubles after a year that hasn't exactly gone to plan. However, the experience I have gained this year I believe will be invaluable looking forward.

I have now come to the end of my season and my team of trusted coaches and I are putting together my blueprint for next year.

We'll discuss our technical on court changes, what I want to be more powerful at in the gym and, mentally, how I can be stronger. A lot of athletes dislike this time of year. However, I feel this is when I get to put in the most amount of training and can really go all out without having to taper down for tournaments. It is also great on a personal level as it is probably the longest block of the year I get at home to spend time with friends and family.

A usual day for me is quite tricky to explain, as every day of the week is different. I usually start bright and early at 5:45am, three days a week. I train at 7am due to court time, my technical coach's commitments and just my general love for early mornings (puzzling indeed). There's nothing worse than getting to training feeling tired and then finishing the session when I am starting to wake up. I try to beat slow morning starts as much as I can by having my first breakfast of the day bright and early. I cannot go out the door without cereal, but I'm not a huge fan of those ultra healthy oats and dried fruit combinations. The early sessions are technical with my coach, where at present we are changing a few aspects of my game so that hopefully next year I will have a lot more weapons to play with.

I finish this session around 8:30-9am and it is then time for my second breakfast, sadly not a full English, but scrambled eggs or a protein shake. Then I jump in the shower before I head off to my university lectures. I count myself lucky as I only have four lectures a week this year, which are two hours each. However, the amount of work I have to do in preparation for these lectures and my assessments is intense and makes up for the lack of contact hours in university. Studying for my degree, combined with my training schedule, is definitely comparable to a full-time job.

So, after a morning lecture or a morning of independent working (my lecturers reading this will be equally as impressed as they are shocked), I head off to see my strength and conditioning team. My 'team' is pretty much my strength and conditioning coach, Bridgitte, and her intern Irish (no prizes for guessing where he's from), who I have the pleasure of seeing four times a week. At the moment we are at the early stage of a big strength block, which was something I really enjoyed last winter. Although I've never felt so much pain before, it has given me a great strength basis which I hope I can build on this year. After about an hour and a half of this, which also consist of lots of short interval pushing drills (the ones that make you feel like you will be sick) that is me done with those evil, but lovely, people for the day.

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Then I have an hour or so rest before a big and healthy - of course - lunch. I am currently on a high protein diet where I have to try and eat 110g of protein per day and have cut out pasta from my diet due to it being full of slow release carbs. This, for a student who likes to think he is a great cook but realistically isn't going to be on master chef any time soon, is quite inconvenient; however, the extensive range of meals I can now create with chicken is quite impressive.

Finally I move on to my late sessions of the day, I do these twice a week from 8-10pm, which is never nice when you have to be up at 5:45am the next day, but I try to keep that to a minimum. These sessions are again on court, however, they are a lot more relaxed and I tend to do match play where I get to put into practice the things I work on with my coach, and keep my match play to a high level. Match play is crucial, especially in the off season, and I can have some fun in these which is always good. If you don't enjoy what you are doing you will never succeed.

I also have probably two other on court sessions per week with other players and hitting partners as well as physiotherapy sessions and sport psychology sessions, which are all vital to my development.

Away from training, I'm really looking forward to 2012. I'm really excited about the BT Storytellers project and what the next year has in store. I really can't begin to imagine how big an event it will be. I'm sure from January the media will begin to go crazy about it and the closer it gets the more exciting I'm sure it will get for all of the public.

Being from London it is so close to home, which is a once in a lifetime opportunity for everybody. Being lucky enough to be friends and training partners with a good few of the athletes that will be involved in a few of the sports will make it extra special for me. Seeing how hard they are training day in, day out and their excitement at reaching their dreams of representing Great Britain at the Olympic and Paralympic Games really inspires me to keep pushing on and hopefully reach these heights in a few years' time myself.  This will be the first Paralympics I will have actual links with and a real connection to, and I will try and draw as much from this experience as possible for my future. I can only wish every single athlete the best of luck and really hope the whole of the country gets behind the team, whether you are at the events or watching on the television, as an athlete knowing you are being supported and people wanting you to do well is the biggest encouragement you can possibly get.

Wheelchair tennis player Liam O'Reilly is a BT Storyteller.  BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and title sponsor of the BT Paralympic World Cup. For more details click here.  To follow Liam on twitter click here 

Tom Degun: Finally we get our first true glimpse of sport at the London 2012 Paralympics

tom degun_07-12-11The London 2012 test events, officially known as the London Prepares series, have now been going on rather successfully since May this year but it was not until this weekend that the first stand-alone Paralympic test event got underway with the London International Goalball Tournament.

The two-day competition at the magnificent Handball Arena on the Olympic Park saw five women's teams in action as hosts Britain took on China, Canada, Sweden and the United States.

It was a superb few days in the spotlight for goalball – a sport not well known but a fascinating discipline nonetheless that sees two teams featuring three visually impaired players compete using a ball with bells inside it.

But perhaps more poignantly, the event provided us with our first true glimpse of what sport at the London 2012 Paralympics will look like.

Those fortunate enough to attend International Paralympic Day (IPD) on September 8 this year will most likely agree that the special event in Trafalgar Square gave us very much a flavour of what the Games will feel like across the capital.

After all, IPD saw big screens up, exhibition Paralympic events on show, come-and-try-out-the-sport-sessions and numerous appearances from high profile figures including Prime Minister David Cameron and the world's most recognisable Paralympian Oscar Pistorius of South Africa.

But it was in the Handball Arena that we actually got the chance to see what Paralympic sport itself will be like in its proper London 2012 setting.

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Although tickets were not on sale for the goalball, 4,000 were donated by London 2012 to local residents and schools to attend and they combine to create a fabulous atmosphere.

This might sound strange in a sport where the audience is required to stay silent - so that the players can hear the ball - but the silence itself actually manages to add huge tension and excitement to the play.

I can perhaps only equate it to a tennis match, where the crowd will stay deafly silent before erupting when the point is won.

The silence is nothing if not hugely nerve-jangling.

So if the goalball test event is anything to go by, we are maybe starting to get an idea of what to expect.

For starters, China will be a major force at London 2012 and probably go on to top the medal table just as they did in Beijing after their goalball women's team, the reigning Paralympic silver medallists, easily won the goalball test event with victory over Canada in what can only be seen as an ominous warning shot for everyone else.

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We can also expect the arenas to be fantastic, the spectators to be passionate and the competitors to be simply brilliant in terms of skill, ability and athleticism.

But most crucially, we can expect 'sport like never before'.

It is a phrase used constantly when referencing the London 2012 Paralympic Games and I asked Chris Holmes, the London 2012 director of Paralympic integration, what he wants those four symbolic words to mean to people.

"Sport like never before is a reference to what the real essence of what Paralympic sport is all about," said Holmes, who won nine Paralympic gold medals in swimming at four Paralympic Games, including six at Barcelona in 1992.

"A lot of people who attend London 2012 perhaps wouldn't have seen Paralympic sport before but what they will encounter is something truly incredible.

"They will see incredible athletes participating in incredible sport.

"The 2012 Paralympics will be a showcase of elite sport which highlights what can be achieved by people with an impairment and that is why we talk about sport like never before."

So while most of the attention will be on the likes of Pistorius, swimming star Ellie Simmonds and wheelchair racer Dave Weir, perhaps it might be a good idea to tune into sports such as goalball. You may just get the chance to see sport like never before.

Tom Degun is the Paralympics reporter for insideworldparasport

Simon LeStrange: A special time for Paralympics Ireland to honour the people contributing to success behind the scenes

simon lestrange_28-11-11Elite athletes from Paralympics Ireland gathered with their employers last week in Bewley's Hotel in Ballsbridge to recognise the massive contribution that each athletes' employer has had on their individual performance over the past twelve months.

In all, nine supportive employers were recognised with facilitating their employee with the support needed in order to perform for Ireland in attempting to qualify for next year's Paralympic Games in London.

The event was opened by Paralympics Ireland chief executive Liam Harbison, who began by thanking each employer for supporting Paralympics Ireland.

The success of Irish Paralympic sport became obvious to all present as there have been four Irish world champions crowned in the last year alone. This fact was highlighted by Liam, who recognised that Paralympic Ireland's aim of 'leading elite Paralympic athletes in achieving sustained competitive excellence' would not be possible without the support of an employer who understands the demand of elite sport and is willing to back his employee to succeed in their profession and their sporting lives.

Currently forty athletes across nine different sports are on course or have already qualified for the Paralympic Games next year and central to the success of the Irish team as a whole has been the support of the Irish Institute of Sport (IIS) and its athlete support system.

Daragh Sheridan, head of performance skills at the IIS, spoke of the system's success and the challenges both employers and athletes must overcome to achieve success in a professional and sporting environment.

An elite athlete trains up to 25 hours a week and due to the high training demands Sheridan stated that the role of an athlete's employer becomes "as valid as the psychologist or any member of the coaching team".

Furthermore he revealed that The Athletes Employment Support Scheme seeks to assist athletes to effectively combine work life with training and competition, and without the support of employers, success at the Paralympics would not be possible.

One athlete benefiting through the scheme is current world handcycling champion Mark Rohan.

Mark spoke about his life as a Paralympic athlete at the event and he spoke of his life being "lived in two halves."

The first half being an able bodied athlete who enjoyed playing for both his club and county with the GAA before a road accident left him with four broken bones in his back and damage to his heart.

This resulted in Mark being unable to play football again and after lengthy rehabilitation, some of which he received in France, he began his journey to becoming a world champion.

Christy King_and__Adrienne_Behan_of_ESB_Electric_Ireland_President_Jimmy_Gradwell.__Mark_Rohan_Handcycling_World_Champion_and_Daragh_Sheridan_of_the_Irish_Institute_of_Sport
Central to his success are his employers, ESB Electric Ireland. In his speech to the assembled athletes, support staff and employers, Mark detailed how both himself and the ESB Electric Ireland were open to change, engaged in positive communication and, vitally, had belief in what could be achieved.

ESB Electric Ireland along with Mark's training and support staff has enabled Mark's success.

However this is just one of the amazing transformations that an employer has made to the life a Paralympic athlete.

Other companies which were recognised at the event included Topaz, FBD, Laois Sports Partnership, the Irish Wheelchair Association, Comreg, the HSE, the Revenue Commission, East Coast FM and the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine. The developments within the Athlete Employment Scheme and Paralympics Ireland are very exciting for all involved and that was evident by Damien O'Neill, Head of Group Marketing with Allianz Ireland.

Damien O'Neill and Allianz announced support of Paralympics Ireland some months ago and have added to their already excellent reputation of supporting sport within Ireland. Damien spoke of Allianz's commitment to sport in Ireland and his willingness to do everything within in his power to give profile to Paralympics Ireland and its elite athletes.

Allianz, according to Damien, are "here because we want to be" and also spoke of his desire to establish a legacy within Ireland for Paralympic sport.

He stressed that this partnership was not just a business deal but it connected with himself and Allianz on an emotional level and that Allianz were looking forward to supporting Paralympics Ireland into the future and along with the other supporting sponsors and employers helping Team Ireland reach its set targets.

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Paralympics Ireland have ambitious targets in place for the athletes and Nancy Chillingworth (pictured far left), the performance director, explained the organisations desire to finish in the top 30 in the medals table at next year's Games and also to be the most successful Irish sporting team in 2012.

Each employer in attendance who supported an athlete over the last year was presented with a picture of their employee in action for Ireland. The recognition award was presented to each employer by the President of Paralympics Ireland Jimmy Gradwell and their athlete employee.

The event was very successful and these are truly exciting times for the athletes and the organisation as whole. In the words of Liam Harbison: "the employers are high performance too both" employees and employers face a challenging but hopefully a rewarding year.

Simon LeStrange is a member of the Cerebral Palsy Irish Paralympic football team which came ninth at the 2011 World Championships in Holland.  Despite the huge disappointment of not securing one of the eight places at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the team have already refocused their goals and have commenced the journey to Rio 2016 Paralympics.

Xavier Gonzalez: Paralympic Movement on a high in the Americas

Xavier GonzalezIt is over a week since the conclusion of the 2011 Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico and I've had some time to reflect on what was a great event.

Firstly the local organising committee deserve credit for putting on a great showcase of parasport, whilst the people of Guadalajara and Mexico should also be recognised for providing some great hospitality and extremely vocal support for all our athletes and teams.

The Parapans were the last major international multisport event ahead of London 2012, and as a result competition across all sports was fierce, especially in team sports where some of the final qualification places for next year were at stake.

I was at most of the team sport finals and the intensity of the Games was really something else.

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In individual events many of the nations took different approaches. Brazil (pictured), for example, sent pretty much their strongest team to Guadalajara and this was reflected in the final medals table. They won 197 medals, including 81 golds, a feat that placed them well and truly at the top.

Others countries sent some young up and coming athletes to the Games with differing results, whilst others discovered new talents. USA uncovered two absolute gems who I would be surprised not to see in London next year.

Chelsea McClammer, a T53 athlete, had a great Games winning five gold medals and one bronze. She's only 17-years-old and may well feature for the US next year in the British capital.

Jarryd Wallace is also a name to look out for in 2012. He only had his leg amputated 15 months ago, yet in running 11.31 to win the 100 metre T44 gold, he ran faster than both Oscar Pistorius or Jerome Singleton did in the final at January's IPC Athletics World Championships.

Host nation Mexico also discovered a star of their own in Luis Andrade Guillen, a winner of eight medals in the pool including four golds.

Paralympic sport is on something of an upward curve at the moment in the Americas and there is no place where it is enjoying more success than in Brazil.

Following the Parapan American Games, a handful of us from the IPC have flown down to Rio for our first project review with the organising committee of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

During our stay in Rio it has been superb to see some of the media attention the Brazilian athletes have been enjoying on local and national news and rightly so.

It is not every day that an athlete wins an astonishing 11 gold medals in one Games and swimmer Daniel Dias deserves every bit of publicity he is getting at the moment. Dias will certainly be another one to watch next year in London.

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The Brazil team was welcomed home from Mexico by the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, which again was well covered by the national media. That coverage reached fever pitch at the weekend when the logo for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games was unveiled to the world.

In Brazil, the unveiling was broadcast live on one of the country's most popular TV programmes to an estimated 50 million people whilst nearly 100 other media attended to ensure the rest of the world see the new emblem.

I am confident that something special is happening here in the Americas and our aim is to continue the momentum generated this week in Brazil and last week in Mexico through until the 2015 Parapan American Games and the 2016 Paralympic Games here in Rio.

Xavier Gonzalez is the chief executive of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

Terezinha Guilhermina: Rio 2016 is a chance to show that Brazil is not just a land of football

Terezinha Guilhermina_head_and_shouldersMy aim is to become the first female Paralympic athlete to run the 100 metres under 12 seconds.

It has been a good year for me because at the 2011 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Athletics Championships in New Zealand in January, I won three gold medals in the T11 100m, 200m and 400m, breaking world records in the 100m and 200m.

In June, at a meet in Germany, I then lowered my own 100m world record of 12.13sec to 12.04.

But my ultimate goal is to make history by running the 100m in under 12 seconds and I am very close now.

That what I've been preparing myself to run in training and hopefully I can achieve this goal in Mexico at the 2011 Parapan American Games.

My other big goal is London 2012 and winning three gold medals there because at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, I only won one gold medal in the 200m.

I won a silver medal in the 100m and bronze medal in the in Beijing but I think if I am at my best, I get all three golds in the events at the Paralympics next year.

What makes me strong is that I meet up with my main rival every day for training.

I class myself as my biggest rival.

I don't want to lose to Terezinha and I don't want Terezinha to lose to me.

I also hope I can inspire people because all Paralympians with great achievements inspire me and I try to learn things from each of them.

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I particularly want to inspire people from my own country Brazil.

Paralympic sport in Brazil is getting bigger every day because the country is hosting the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016.

I think Rio 2016 is a chance of showing the world that Brazil is not just the land of football.

Brazil has athletes and winners in many sports and we hope the Brazilians will get to know their real heroes.

It's expected that by 2016, Paralympic Sports in Brazil will be at a level whereby athletes, investors and the audience feel there is professionalism and that, independent of our disabilities, we master our sports and we are as capable of great achievements as other athletes.

Terezinha Guilhermina is a visually impaired sprinter from Brazil and is the fastest female Paralympian on the planet with world records in the T11 100 and 200 metres. She won three Paralympic medals at Beijing 2008, including gold in the 200m, and three gold medals at the IPC World Athletics Championships at Christchurch

Lee Pearson: I'm back from injury and happy to be part of the story of the London 2012 Games

lee pearson_25-10-11In June, I was injured during a training session falling from one of my horses. This has kept me on the sidelines and out of the saddle for a few months, costing me selection for the 2011 European Championships in September this year, which was unfortunate.

After I fell I thought I'd just sprained my back but an MRI scan showed that I had actually fractured three vertebrae and crushed a fourth. It took over eight weeks for me to recover and I've only just started training again. I'm noticing that my fitness is somewhat lacking as a result. I've slowly been building back up to my normal routine. Even when I'm at the peak of fitness I still have some aches and pains so it's been tough.

I use the team physio to prepare for competition and whilst I've been injured, the horses have been exercised by my staff, which is a bit like "remote control" riding - I use a microphone and stand on the ground watching! This is particularly important so that I'm involved in the general progression and training of the horses.

I'm part of the BT Storytellers project, which has gathered 100 members of the public to tell their stories about the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

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I had two BT Storytellers meet me at my stables a few weeks back. It was great to meet them both and for them to watch me ride. The Storytellers filmed and took photos throughout the afternoon and we even did a short interview, which features on the BT Storytellers website. I really think it's important that the history of London 2012 is recorded and this is why the BT Storytellers project is such a great thing to be a part of. It will be the people's Games, something that won't happen again in my lifetime. I think it's great that we have this opportunity before London 2012 to ensure our stories as athletes are told.

In terms of my preparation for London, it will be quite strange not to have to prepare the horses for flying abroad and I'll actually be preparing as if it's a national competition. The pressure from the media will be a challenge; I have to remember that I'm there to do a job.

The Paralympic stands should be packed out for the first time and home support is at an all-time high, which will be great. Paralympic athletes are becoming household names as people begin to understand that it isn't easy to win a gold medal.

The day before a competition my routine will vary depending on which horse I ride. I would normally exercise each horse, ensuring they are stretched, supple, and ready to work. My new horse, which has been sourced through the Lady Joseph Charitable Trust is a spotted Knabstrupper stallion called Lucas (pictured). He really is a beautiful horse and stands out a mile away. He still has a long way to go before next year and needs a lot of technical training but his personality is just fantastic, I hope he retains that. All of my horses are treated like any other, they are hacked out every week and are turned out in the paddocks every day, and they're not wrapped up in cotton wool like many people might think.

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I attended the BT British Olympic Ball recently, which was a great evening. It was held at Kensington Olympia where the Olympia Horse Show is held near to Christmas every year, it was quite a change in scenery!

The Grand Hall looked fantastic everyone got dressed up and had a wonderful evening in anticipation of the Olympics next year.

Nine-time Paralympic champion Lee Pearson is a BT Ambassador.  BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Lee will be telling his London 2012 story through the BT Storytellers campaign here.

Jerome Singleton: London 2012 will be special but just watch out for my rivalry with Oscar

Jerome SingletonIt was fantastic being in London last month for International Paralympic Day at Trafalgar Square.

It was my first visit to the fantastic city and I already can't wait for the London Paralympic Games next year to renew my rivalry with my friend Oscar Pistorius.

Oscar only just beat me in the T44 100 metres at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics when I took silver so it was the best feeling in the world to beat him in the same event at the 2011 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Athletics Championships in Christchurch in New Zealand this January.

It was particularly nice as it was his first defeat in Paralympic competition in seven years!

Looking at it closely, we are so similar.

We were born with the same defect. I'm a single leg amputee, he's a double. Growing up I played football, he played rugby and we're the same age.

If you're two athletes in the same era and you never beat your rival, then you're never going to win gold.

Jerome Singleton Alan Fonteles Oliveira Oscar Pistorius Blake Leeper
But Christchurch was a great confidence booster for me going into London. It showed me that through hard work and dedication anything is possible.

Winning in Christchurch has changed things for me a lot. I'm going to be sponsored by a major company for London and I'm really excited by that.

And that tells me that between now and London it's feasible for me to be a full time athlete, which means I can only get better.

The London 2012 Paralympics will be amazing and just look out for my T44 100m with Oscar at the Olympic Stadium on the evening of September 6, 2012.

It is certain to be close and I know that with the crowd behind us, it will be an electric atmosphere.

Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier, Magic Johnson had Larry Bird and Usain Bolt has Tyson Gay.

Now Oscar has got me.

Jerome Singleton is a Paralympic athlete from the United States competing mainly in category T44. He was born without a fibula in his right leg and doctors amputated below the knee when he was 18 months old. He won silver in the T44 100m at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics and gold in the event at the Christchurch 2011 IPC World Championships where he handed Oscar Pistorius his first defeat in Paralympic competition in seven years.

Graham Edmunds: The public are really starting to get behind Paralympics as London 2012 approaches

Graham_Edmunds_head_and_shouldersSo this is it, just under a year to go now. A year sounds like a long time but in the world of sport; it's not long at all.

My life has been meticulously planned out since returning from Beijing 2008 Paralympics.

Every competition, every month, every week set out in a plan and I've been ticking them off as each one has been completed. Now it's the final run into the Paralympic Swimming Trials at the London Aquatics Centre next March.

Life both in and out of the water seems to have increased in fervour. The tickets for the Paralympic Games went on sale not that long ago and I've been inundated from friends and relatives asking what events I am swimming in and when because they all want to see me compete.

With this increase in interest, I have been given a massive boost in my training. Yes, every day hurts and the day after does too but I want to be at the Paralympic Games in London 2012 so much because of the support from everyone I know. This feeling is multiplied every time I meet someone new. When they find out that I'm a current athlete preparing for such an event; they are excited just to they can say they too know someone in the Games. It brings every new person just that little closer to the Games on a personal side.

London is going to be massive for a number of reasons. The Paralympics are coming home for a start so London is a Landmark Games in that respect. Being a home Games, London affords my friends and family that have only been well wishers in the past the chance to join in and come and see what I can do.

With Channel 4 following a number of athletes in their Best of British Season, it is giving everyone the chance to see athletes and learn a little more about them and their respective lives so that they are not just cheering a nation; they are cheering someone they can relate just that little bit more.

Graham Edmunds has two Paralympic gold medals, which he won in the men's 4x100 metres freestyle relay at both the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2004 Paralympic Games. The 37-year-old is also involved with Channel 4 who are the host broadcaster for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Channel 4's most recent Paralympic programme "That Paralympic Show" can be seen on Channel 4 Saturdays at 1.25pm