London 2012: 'GB success the key to a good Games'
Paralympics chief says home medals on the first day will fire up the feelgood factor
A rush of home medals is a key element towards ensuring the success of the Paralympic Games, which open in London on Wednesday night, according to the man who leads the Paralympic movement.
Britain's 300-strong team – like their Olympic counterparts, the largest of any contingent at the Games – are expected to win well over 100 medals, with the first arriving on day one of competition on Thursday. Sir Philip Craven, a former five-time British wheelchair basketball Paralympian and now president of the International Paralympic Committee, believes home success is an important facet of the Games.
"In Beijing, China topped the medal table; for Britain to be highly successful here in London is very important," Craven said. "It's got to make for good news, for people coming to watch their heroes compete."
Britain won 102 medals in Beijing, 42 of them gold, and have been set a target of bettering that by at least one and holding on to second place in the medals table, behind China. There are 28 medal events on Thursday, and Britain has golden prospects in cycling, via Sarah Storey, shooting and swimming.
In the Olympics Mark Cavendish and Hannah Miley both failed to deliver hoped-for medals on the opening day and Britain had to wait until day five for its first gold. But, spurred in part by the Olympic buzz, those behind the Paralympic team are confident of delivering medals from early on.
"We have got our biggest ever team," said Craig Hunter, Britain's chef de mission. "All of them are absolutely capable of winning medals; the traditional sports of cycling, rowing, swimming, athletics – they are going to be bags full of medals. But also ones to watch are things like basketball, rugby, amazingly exciting and powerful sports.
"They are certainly inspired to get in there in the medal hunt. We are going to be looking for more medals across more sports. They are out there to prove some points about how wonderful Paralympic sport really is."
That is an issue that strikes a chord with Craven, who competed from 1972 to 1988. He said: "Ever since I've been president, that word 'disability' has meant nothing to me. It's been about individuals maximising the use of what works and not worrying about what doesn't. It is about sporting performance. But it's also about the stories behind the athletes – all 4,300 of them. They are quite amazing as well. There are stories of sport, determination and grit."
Organisers' hopes remain high that the Games will be a sell-out. Yesterday a further 70,000 tickets were put on sale with 2.3m of the 2 .5m tickets made available already gone. It is already a record sale for a Paralympics.
"I'm just so chuffed to be here at these Games," said Craven. "I feel so proud of being British, of being president of the International Paralympic Committee. In Beijing the world started to take note of the Paralympic Games and the Paralympic movement and I think we're really going to take off in London."
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