21 January 2011
Following a successful holding camp in Auckland, the Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland team will commence its IPC Athletics World Championships campaign in Christchurch, New Zealand tomorrow (Saturday 22 January), confident in the knowledge that it’s one of the best prepared squads to ever travel to a global Paralympic competition.
With ten athletes currently ranked number one in the world across 12 events, there is good reason to be optimistic from a performance perspective.
However, according to Aviva GB & NI team captain and defending World Champion Dan Greaves (coach: Jim Edwards), the positive mood in the camp is also testament to the team spirit and seamless integration of seasoned internationalists and teenage debutants: “This is one of the best competitions I’ve ever been involved in for team cohesion,” he says.
“Everyone is in a really positive mind and working together. We’ve got a really diverse group of athletes old and young and we’re all helping one another out – I think it’ll lead to a successful team overall.”
Greaves, who is targeting his third successive World Championships title in the F44 discus, is currently World Record holder in the event (57.14m) and has finished on the podium in each of the last three Paralympic Games, winning gold in Athens in 2004.
At only 28 years old he’s one of the most experienced members of the team and believes that the IPC Athletics World Championships offers many of the junior athletes an opportunity to learn and excel.
“The young ones have got a good attitude,” he says; “it’s both positive and ambitious. They’re not shying away from the task in hand which is important. There are a few of us who’ve been around the block and have the experience, but to feed off that positive energy from the younger guys is a good thing. They just need to learn to use it correctly, they can’t take their eye off the ball - they need to channel their energy and use it to deliver some high quality competition performances.”
“This is a unique opportunity to show the world what we’re made of,” he continues. “The whole Paralympic movement has come on so much since I watched my first Paralympic Games on TV and there’s some serious competition out there. The medals we’ve perhaps taken for granted in the past won’t be so easy to win on this occasion. We were ahead of the game but the world has caught us up and we’ve had to work harder than ever to make the grade.
“I obviously want to win out here. Going into Beijing I was unbeaten in eight years and to be beaten there...I was so disappointed I didn’t really know how to take it. After that I felt like I lost my way a bit, but looking back it opened my eyes and made me more focused. For the past two years I’ve been working as hard as possible to ensure that doesn’t happen again. That’s a hard lesson a few of the juniors on the team might have to learn, but it will stand them in great stead for London and Rio.”
Of those going into the Championships currently ranked number one in the world, World Record holders Mickey Bushell (coach: Fred Periac) and Hannah Cockroft (coach: Peter Eriksson) compete in tomorrow’s T53 100m heats and T34 200m final respectively.
Also kick starting their campaigns on Saturday are Beijing Paralympic Games medallists Shelly Woods (coach: Pete Wyman) in the T54 5000m final and David Weir (coach: Jenny Archer) in the T54 800m heats, while Commonwealth Games gold medallist Katrina Hart (coach: Ron Ellchuk) lines up in the T37 200m heats.
The Aviva GB & NI team won 27 medals in the last edition of the IPC Athletics World Championships in Assen (Netherlands) in 2006, with a haul of nine gold, nine silver and nine bronze, but the most important benchmark to build on with London 2012 on the horizon is the 18th place team finish in the Beijing Paralympic Games two years ago, says Aviva GB & NI Team Leader and UKA Head Coach (Paralympic) Peter Eriksson.
“The team we have here in New Zealand will kick start a period of success we hope will peak in London,” he admits. “A top ten finish in the medal table in Christchurch will be a step in the right direction.
“We’ve seen a real shift in the team concept over the past year and we’re growing into one team that works together and will support one another in training and in competition. It’s a long process and it won’t change overnight, but we’re really starting to see some positive changes.
"We’ll have no excuses out here - we’re expecting a professional attitude from everyone. We all know it can get tough at times but if things don’t work out we’ve got time to make changes for 2012. It’s time for us to give something back to our sponsors and all of those who have shown faith in us.”
More than 1,000 athletes from 70 countries will compete over the course of the nine-day IPC Athletics World Championships programme (22-30 January) which gets underway in the QE11 Stadium tomorrow.
The Rt Hon. John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand, officially opened the event - which is the last major international gathering of athletes before London 2012 - in a Ceremony held in Christchurch today (Friday 21 January).
For the latest news about the 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships, please visit www.ipcathleticsworldchamps.com
Daily session reports will be posted on the UKA website: www.uka.org.uk
The IPC’s online TV channel www.ParalympicSport.TV will be broadcasting live coverage of the evening sessions from Christchurch from the first day of competition (Saturday 22 January).