Tom_Degun_in_Christchurch_Jan_31Before labelling me a hater, let me make one thing clear - I thought the Christchurch 2011 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics World Championships were phenomenal.

So, they were in January and in New Zealand with just over a year to go before the London 2012 Paralympics. That didn't seem to bother anyone here and it didn't decrease the quality of the action at the magnificent QE II Stadium where nearly 50 world records fell.

Great Opening and Closing Ceremonies, beautiful place, beautiful venue, decent crowds - when the sun came out - and Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius of South Africa quite rightly making headlines because of his captivating duel with the USA's Jerome Singleton.


However, no serious judgement of these Championships can be made without referencing the absolute shambles that occurred during yesterday morning's marathon event.

It was a great decision to have the marathon on the last day of the competition.

On what was a sunny and clear Sunday morning, the blue-ribbon event of these Games had the opportunity to show off Christchurch in all its splendour and with Britain's Dave Weir, who won three World Championship golds here, set to take on huge rival Kurt Fearnley of Australia in the T54 race, the scene was set for an epic clash.

Throw 2010 London Marathon winner Josh Cassidy of Canada and world record holder Ernst van Dyk of South Africa into the equation and you couldn't have asked for more.

Well actually...maybe you could.

Maybe you could have politely requested that the roads were closed so that the world's top Paralympic stars didn't have to worry about getting hit by a car while they were competing for one of the greatest prizes in the sport.

I first suspected something was wrong when rumours of an urgent meeting between senior officials here was called regarding the marathon late on day eight of the competition, the evening before the race took place.

What was said, one can only hazard a guess - but it was just hours later that an IPC technical delegate informed all National Paralympic Committees that there were no road closures as had been previously promised.

So baffling was the move that the British athletes still headed down to the warm-up track near the start line before it was confirmed that this was in fact not a joke.

The Canadians even took their spots on the start line before they were quite rightly pulled out by a team manager who didn't particularly want to see his top stars crushed by a lorry.


Suddenly, you had a men's marathon T54 event (pictured) without Weir - who later described the event as "ludicrous" - and Cassidy and the rest of the athletes left completely perplexed.

One of the strangest conversations I had in my time here was with Ernst van Dyk shortly after he completed the marathon and just missed out on the medals.

"At one point, I went for an overtake but there was a car coming the other way so I had to pull back in!

"I came all the way from South Africa for this one event so I wasn't going to pull out but, I mean, come on, this is the World Championships.

"When you are going at top speed, it isn't all that easy to stop when a car pulls out in front of you at a junction."

Unsurprisingly, France's Denis Lemeunier crashed but fortunately received only minor injuries.

With traffic fully in play around the course, it could have been a hell of a lot worse.

My big issue is how hard is it to close a few roads on a sleepy Sunday morning in Christchurch?

The place is hardly ever busy anyway and I'm sure that shutting a couple of roads here doesn't involve quite the same logistics as closing London's Piccadilly Circus.

In fact you could have probably done it with a couple of cones and I found it perplexing when I heard that some of the Australian team had gone out to help stop traffic so the racers could continue the course.

Equally strange was the course itself.

It was an irritatingly boring three-lap route of the outskirts of the city and, for no apparent reason, the finish line was in the middle of a hidden away residential area that appeared to have the locals surprised.

Why not have it start and finish at the QE II Stadium approximately two minutes away or, better still, in the picturesque and easily accessible Cathedral Square where the triumphant Opening Ceremony was staged?

If the genius who decided to have the Opening Ceremony in the city centre deserves huge praise, the clown heading up decisions of the marathon has fully merited criticism.

The guy I felt most sorry for was Kurt Fearnley.

The triple Paralympic champion had just claimed one of the biggest titles of his career in a sprint finish but without a knowledgeable official in sight, it was he who was bombarded with questions about what he thought of the pull-outs and the course safety.

Fearnley, who came especially for the marathon race having recently got married, diplomatically said it was a huge blow for him to see Weir and Cassidy pull out and the fact made it "a tough race" for him to line up for.

He is a top competitor who wants to race the best and he was in such good marathon form that he would have probably still have won against a full field and proper course without traffic littered across it.

It is just unfair that his moment was tarnished - how annoying it is that such a wonderful event has been marred by something so preventable.

An investigation has been launched by the IPC and I guess that if things are learnt so that this ridiculous and dangerous incident doesn't occur again then at least some good would have come from it.

When the dust settles, I am confident that this won't continue to cloud the brilliant work that went on before it, but as the Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams duet goes: "Oh what a shame."

Tom Degun is a reporter for insideworldparasport and is currently in Christchurch covering the IPC Athletics World Championships