Monday, August 31, 2009

Paralympian gold-medal swimmer appointed head of London 2012 Paralympics

From The Telegraph in the UK:

Chris Holmes (pictured), a winner of nine Paralympic swimming gold medals, has been appointed as the Games' new director of paralympic integration.

It was in 1948 that Sir Ludwig Guttman, the founding father of the modern Paralympic Games, developed the concept at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Aylesbury, in 1948 for spinally injured servicemen using sport as a means of physical and mental rehabilitation.

Three years from Friday, the Paralympic movement returns to its spiritual home of England and Holmes, MBE, will head up all aspects of London 2012's planning and organisation.

Holmes, who lost his sight overnight aged 14, studied politics at Cambridge University and as an undergraduate, won a record six gold medals at the Barcelona Paralympic Games in 1992.

Holmes was a Paralympic swimmer of the highest order, but was also an outspoken rebel in his athletic career.

It was he who, poolside in Atlanta in 1996, revealed to The Daily Telegraph the dire conditions in the athletes' village at those Games where the British team felt they were being treated like second-class citizens. Athlete pressure led to the close alignment between the Olympic and Paralympic Games that exists today.

Holmes, MBE, has been a board member at UK Sport since 2005 and was a Commissioner on the board of the Disability Rights Commission from 2002-07. He is currently practicing at a leading City international law firm.

"Our aim is to put athletes at the heart of every aspect of planning for the Games," he said yesterday. "It's a unique, totally new role and one which I intend to pursue with no stone left unturned."

In the four years between the Athens and Beijing Games, public sector funding invested in Paralympic sports and athletes has risen from £29.5 million to £47 million, administered through UK Sport.

Tessa Jowell, the Olympics Minister, said: "The major ambition for London 2012 is that it will be as big an event for Paralympians as the Olympians. We want complete equivalence in the significance of both events. We are determined that London 2012 will help raise the profile of disability sport and leave a lasting legacy for disabled people around the UK."

It will also be the most compact Games ever. Around half of the 20 sports will be held in the Olympic Park and the majority of the remainder in the River Zone (North Greenwich Arena 1, Greenwich Park, ExCeL and the Royal Artillery Barracks).

Events outside these two zones include Paralympic Rowing (Eton Dorney, 25 miles west of London), Paralympic Sailing (Weymouth and Portland) and Paralympic Road Cycling, to take place in central London.

Operationally, London 2012 will be the most accessible Games ever for athletes and spectators. Train platforms are being widened, buses will be low-floored and have wheelchair access and all river piers will have ramps.

More than 8,250 London buses have been fitted with the new iBus system – an automatic radio and on bus passenger display announcement system which helps the visually impaired and hard of hearing.

There are also plans in place for summer camps throughout the UK in the next three years for teenagers with physical disabilities.

Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the London 2012 Organising Committee, said: "In three years time we will be welcoming the Paralympic Games home and we will deliver a spectacular showcase for Paralympic sport. "However, we have greater ambitions. This is a golden opportunity to raise awareness of Paralympic sport, challenge stereotypes about disability and secure a legacy which would see every disabled child having access to sport.

"I have been completely blown away by the performances of Paralympic athletes who were doing things that so-called 'able-bodied' people could not hope to achieve."

Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, added: "Although it is still three years away, London has made clear efforts to move quickly down the path of preparation for 2012.

"The new infrastructure that is revitalizing the Lower Lea Valley as well as accessible sporting venues are just two examples of the tremendous legacy that will remain after the Games."