The spotlight returns to Beijing once again this weekend as just two weeks after the Olympic flame was extinguished in the Birds Nest stadium, the Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony gets underway on Saturday.
The British team should be among the medals from day one as they set their stall out in venues now familiar to the British public – from the Water Cube to the Laoshan Velodrome. After finishing second in the medal table four years ago in Athens, hopes of another strong performance will be high, emulating the success of Team GB in the recent Olympic Games.
14 sports go into the Games with the expectation of winning medals, led by the nation’s world leading swimmers. Jim Anderson, David Roberts, Natalie Jones and Nyree Lewis will expect to be amongst those delivering gold medals in the pool. The four swimmers go into the Games defending 12 Paralympic titles between them and will be keen to demonstrate that they have lost none of their edge.
Amongst the first sports to see action will be the equestrian dressage riders, with the British team defending the title that has been in their possession since it was first introduced at the Atlanta Games in 1996. Paralympic Equestrian legend Lee Pearson will look to add to the six gold medals he has won at the last two Games, alongside other experienced gold medal winning riders Anne Dunham and Debbie Criddle.
Early attention will also centre on the Velodrome, where a strong squad will be out to demonstrate that Britain’s stranglehold on the cycling track extends beyond the Olympic arena. Established performers like Aileen McGlynn and Darren Kenny will be joined by former swimming gold medallists Sarah Storey – in her 5th Paralympic Games - and Jody Cundy who will be looking to win gold on the bike and demonstrate their versatility in the Paralympic arena.
Paralympics GB’s wheelchair basketball teams will both be in action on day one, with the men facing their Chinese hosts and the women facing a tough match against Australia, who won the silver medal last time round in Athens. Shooting, boccia, table tennis, 5-a-side football and judo are also on the agenda in an action packed opening to the Games.
John Steele, UK Sport’s Chief Executive wished the Paralympics GB success ahead of the Games, but was confident that the British team would have a productive Games:
“Obviously our Olympic athletes recently set a high standard with their performances in Beijing, but our Paralympians have a great track record of medal success and go into the Games defending second spot in the medal table. We have the opportunity to take in another 11 days of elite sporting action and every expectation of further success for our athletes and teams. For the British public there is also the chance to familiarise themselves with 20 sports – a number of which may be new to them – ahead of the London Games in 2012.”
UK Sport has invested £35m in Paralympic sport over the last four years against a target of a second place finish and 95 medals. UK Sport’s website will follow the Games highlights during the Games.