I’ve just returned from a thoroughly enjoyable few days in the Southern Hemisphere celebrating the past and looking ahead to the future of a number of major Paralympic events.
My first port of call was Sydney, Australia, where I had the honour of attending the Australian Paralympic Committee’s annual awards dinner.
This year’s dinner was a special affair as not only did it celebrate the achievements of all those that had performed so admirably during 2010 but marked the 50th anniversary of the first Paralympic Games in Rome and the 10th anniversary of the Sydney Paralympics.
It was a really enjoyable evening and my congratulations must go to Cameron Rahles-Rahbula for being crowned Australian Paralympian of the Year for his achievement in winning two bronze medals at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.
The dinner was attended by scores of Paralympians from previous Games and it was really nice to catch up with some familiar faces who I worked with when I was part of the Sydney Paralympics Organising Committee, including Dr. John Grant, who was the President of the Sydney Paralympics Organising Committee.
Before the dinner though, I had the pleasure of attending a special reception with seven surviving members of the Australian team that participated in the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960.
The group was in great spirits and it was fantastic to listen to their memories of those first Games 50 years ago and hear how they believe the Paralympic Movement has developed.
As you would expect in a sport obsessed country like Australia, the group remain heroes to this day for their achievements. One of them, Kevin Coombs (pictured), Australia’s first Indigenous Paralympian, even has an Avenue named after him at Sydney Olympic Park and rightly so after competing in five Paralympic Games.
It was Kevin who made me laugh out loud when I read an excellent article about Rome in the Sydney Morning Herald upon my arrival in Australia.
When asked what had most changed about the Paralympics since he got involved, Coombs replied professionalism. Where today’s elite wheelchair basketballers take ice baths after a match, Coombs and his teammates settled for a few iced beers instead!
From Sydney I flew to New Zealand to see how preparations are coming along for next January’s IPC Athletics World Championships.
Despite feeling the brunt of a major earthquake in early September I’m delighted to say that preparations are coming along really well in Christchurch and the Local Organising Committee, city and Government are all committed to delivering a superb event.
The stadium is looking good, the facilities are coming together, hotels are ready to welcome their guests and there is a general building of anticipation and excitement in the city.
More than 1,000 athletes from over 75 countries are expected to take part in January making it the biggest IPC Athletics World Championships ever staged. In terms of number of participants it will also be the biggest sports event ever to be staged in New Zealand, a fact I was not shy in mentioning during numerous radio interviews whilst there.
With Christchurch being the last major international event before the London 2012 Paralympic Games I am genuinely excited about some of the sensational performances I expect some of the athletes to put in.
The leading contenders will not only be looking to win gold and break a world record, but send out a clear warning to their rivals that they mean business in London in less than two years time.
Some athletes are already in New Zealand training hard for January and who knows in 10 or 50 years time there may be another celebration event in the southern hemisphere marking these Championships.
Xavier Gonzalez is the chief executive of the International Paralympic Committee