As our athletes continue their preparations they know that the eyes of the nation will be on them next year, and while that brings pressure it also undoubtedly helps to drive success. A UK Sport study in 2009 suggested that there is an uplift of 25 per cent in performance when athletes compete on home soil, in front of passionate home support.
That is why it is vital that we try and give our athletes as much experience of home competition before London, and it is this that has driven UK Sport's National Lottery funded Major Events programme across 2011. In both Olympic and Paralympic sports, UK Sport has sought to ensure that as many events come to these shores as possible over the year.
As a result, the UK is set to host a record number of major international Paralympic events in preparation for the Games. Next week sees the BT sponsored Paralympic World Cup, an event that UK Sport is not involved in supporting but which is absolutely part of the Paralympic calendar and provides competition for athletics, swimming and wheelchair basketball athletes. It kicks off a summer where there will then be the opportunity to see nine different Paralympic Sports in towns and cities all across Britain.
To give some highlights, the events that UK Sport is funding kick off with the Disability Sailing World Championships which is taking place in July at the London 2012 venue in Weymouth. Among many other prospects, Britain's reigning world champions, Niki Birrell and Alexandra Rickham (pictured), will be defending their titles in the SKUD class.
Then in August, Britain's reigning world and Paralympic champions in the sports of boccia and disability athletics will be showcasing their talents in major international championships on home soil. Fresh from their success earlier this year at the IPC World Championships in New Zealand, where 38 medals were won by British athletes, including 12 golds, UK Athletics will be hosting the London Disability Athletics Grand Prix on the August 6.
Two weeks later, Belfast is the venue for the Boccia World Cup, the sport's premier international event of 2011. Hosted by the University of Ulster between August 18 and 26, GB Boccia is targeting two to four medals at the event, providing ideal preparation for our athletes almost exactly a year out from London.
In addition to these three high profile world events, UK Sport's Lottery funded programme is also helping to bring these other events to the UK this year:
Sitting Volleyball Continental Cup
British Open in Disability Table Tennis
Visually Impaired Judo European Championships
Disability Shooting World Cup
Wheelchair Rugby GB Cup
Para-Archery Paralympic Qualification (UK Sport support still to be confirmed)
In addition to the athletes, of course these events also help support staff to prepare: coaches, physios, psychologists and all the other experts that surround a modern athlete equally need to be confident that they can handle the pressure and expectation of a home Games. Officials, judges and volunteers benefit from the experience too, as does the region where the event is held. Across all the Olympic and Paralympic events supported by the programme, UK Sport estimates that its Lottery investment can help to return five times as much to the local economy.
Above all else, however, the truly exciting element is the exposure that Paralympic sport will receive. I should declare an interest here: in July it is my privilege to take over as chief executive of the British Paralympic Association. I am committed to working with everyone at ParalympicsGB to ensure that we use the power of London 2012 not just to ensure athletes success at the Games but also to raise awareness of the incredible achievement and inspiration of the athletes and hopefully change people's attitudes to disability and the opportunities that Paralympic sport can provide.
I am really looking forward to the challenge, and to attending many of the events I have highlighted above to see our athletes in action. The summer of Paralympic sport we are about to witness across the UK is the perfect set up for what we all hope and expect will be a truly memorable Games next year, and the start of a new era for our sports and athletes.
Tim Hollingsworth is chief operating officer at UK Sport and set to become ParalympicsGB chief excutive in July