By Nick Butler
International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Honorary Board member Maria Guleghina has claimed the Winter Paralympics in Sochi had a "great impact" on attitudes towards the disabled in Russia one year on from the Opening Ceremony of the Games.
Guleghina, also a world renowned soprano opera singer who performed on the ice breaker ship immediately after the Games were officially declared open, claimed the Paralympics "changed the overall point of view of the Russians".
She did, however, admit that the Games would have been "more successful if not for the political situation".
Russia's widely criticised annexation of the Crimean Peninsular took place the week before the start of the event this time last year, leading to only one Ukrainian athlete defiantly participating in the Ceremony on March 7.
In a wide-ranging interview published by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), Guleghina, who was born and raised in the Soviet Union but has Ukrainian, Russian, Belorussian and Armenian family, expressed her wish that "politics should stay out of sports".
"I think no matter what, it is the Paralympians who deserve to be admired and it is no one's business to point fingers at a country that is dealing with a crisis as good as it can," she added.
But in a more positive vein, Guleghina also emphasised the huge success of the Games, and the legacy impact seen since in the world's largest nation.
"I noticed that especially now, after the Games, there are much more ramps for wheelchair users all over the big cities," she said.
"I have heard obviously there is still a lot to be done for the smaller cities in Russia, but the awareness level has risen.
"The Paralympians have changed the overall point of view of the Russians."
A number of other commemorative gestures have taken place this weekend to mark the one year anniversary, with IPC Sir Philip Craven selecting his top five memories of the first Paralympic Games in Russia.
These related to "accessibility", the wild celebrations of United States' Alpine skier Stephanie Jallen when she won a Super-G bronze medal, Great Britain's first Alpine skiing gold, the success of the Russian ice sledge hockey team and, more broadly, the "transformation of 'impossible' to 'I am possible.'"
Among many NPCs to have recognised the milestone date is the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC), who will be reliving the memories of the Games over the next week on all its digital platforms, using the hashtag #ReliveSochi.
"The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games were another great step forward for the Paralympic Movement," said CPC President Gaétan Tardif.
"More Canadians and people around the world discovered the excitement of Paralympic sport."
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