5 Sep 2008

Beijing prepares to host biggest ever Paralympics

9:06 pm on 5 September 2008

Less than two weeks after the Olympic flame was extinguished at the Bird's Nest, Beijing will be back on Games-time footing from Saturday for the largest ever gathering of disabled athletes at the 13th Paralympics.

Thirty athletes will represent New Zealand, hoping to emulate the success of the Athens 2004 squad, which returned home with a swag of 10 medals.

China promised to stage the event under the principle of "Two Games, equal splendour" and the same stunning venues will be used for 11 days of competition involving more than 4,000 athletes from nearly 150 countries in 20 sports.

The Games, from 6-17 September, include archery, cycling, equestrian and wheelchair basketball, fencing and rugby. For the first time, five-a-side and seven-a-side football, rowing, sailing, boccia and goalball will be part of the competition.

Beijing's anti-pollution measures have remained in place, the security around the Chinese capital is just as tight as the Olympics.

An estimated 30,000 volunteers will serve the Games, while 100,000 police will remain on alert around the city to counter any terrorist threat.

"We will not lower any of the security standards put in place for the Olympics but we do promise a people-oriented service," venue security chief Cao Dongxiang said. "Our guiding principle will be to respect the independence and privacy of all disabled people."

Beijing might also host the best attended Paralympics ever. Organisers said that 72% of the 1.65 million tickets have been snapped up, even if 330,000 of those were handed out free to students and the disabled.

China expected to dominate

China topped the medals table at the last Games in Athens four years ago and are likely to dominate even more than they did at the Olympics with their biggest ever delegation of 547 athletes and officials.

Amputee swimmer Natalie Du Toit and "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius, both South Africans, will receive a lot of attention despite the rival attractions of goalball, wheelchair rugby and sitting volleyball.

Du Toit and Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka are the only two athletes to appear at both Games this year, while Pistorius's ultimately doomed attempt to qualify for Olympics on his prosthetics made headlines around the world.

NZ team at Paralympics

In athletics, Matthew Slade and Tim Prendergast are both attending their third Paralympics and are considered strong medal contenders. Slade, who won gold in the 200m at Athens, will defend his title and also compete in the 100m. Prendergast will compete in the 1,500m and the 5,000m. Four years ago, he claimed gold in the 800m.

The team selected to defend the Wheel Blacks' title in Wheelchair Rugby boast plenty of experience, with six of the eight members of the squad original members of the Athens 2004 team. Curtis Palmer and Sholto Taylor are attending their fourth Paralympics and hold bronze medals from both the Sydney 2000 and Atlanta 1996 Games.

Shooter Michael Johnson will aim to match the gold medal he won in Athens 2004. He will compete in the 10m Air Rifle Prone and the 10m Air Rifle Standing.

Veteran powerlifter George Taamaru is competing in his third Paralympic Games and has represented New Zealand at two Commonwealth Games competitions.

In swimming, Daniel Sharp, who won a bronze medal in Athens, competes in the 100m breaststroke, 50m freestyle and 100m freestyle. He is joined in the pool by 15-year-old Sophie Pascoe and Cameron Leslie, aged 18.


Athletics - Terry Faleva'ai, Matthew Slade, Jessica Hamill, Kate Horan and Tim Prendergast.

Boccia - Liam Sanders, Greig Jackson, Maurice Toon, Kerri Bonner, Amanda Slade, Henderikus Dijkstra and Jeremy Morriss.

Cycling - Paula Tesoriero, Ann-Marie Donaldson, Annaliisa Farrell, Jayne Parsons and Fiona Southorn.

Powerlifting - George Taamaru.

Shooting - Michael Johnson.

Swimming - Daniel Sharp, Sophie Pascoe and Cameron Leslie.

Wheelchair Rugby - Curtis Palmer, Sholto Taylor, Jai Waite, Daniel Buckingham, Geremy Tinker, Adam Wakeford, David Klinkhamer and Tim Johnson.

Some source material from: New Zealand Olympic Committee, Beijing Organising Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad