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.