The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games get under way on Friday 7 March. Among those anchoring Channel 4’s coverage are two celebrated Paralympians, Ade Adepitan and Rachael Latham, and Arthur Williams, a former wheelchair racer who spent time mentoring Team GB’s hand-cycling squad.
Here are their personal thoughts on the upcoming spectacle of the Winter Paralympics and their tips on the sports and British competitors to look out for…
The wheelchair basketball legend nailed two free throws in the dying seconds to knock out world champions USA on his way to a bronze medal at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens. The following year, he hit the winning shot for Team GB in overtime to seal gold in the Paralympic World Cup.
“The sit-skiing is absolutely nuts!”
“The Sochi Paralympics will be a fantastic festival of sport, it’s another opportunity for the world to see what can be achieved by some of the best Paralympic athletes in the world. I’ve tried sit-skiing so I’m looking forward to watching the top men and woman hurtling down the slopes at 70mph on a carbon fibre seat with a shock absorber and a ski – it’s absolutely nuts!”
Ones to watch
“We have three very good visually impaired skiers: Kelly Gallagher, Jade Etherington and 15-year-old Millie Knight and this will probably be where GB’s best chance of a medal will come from. The visually impaired skiing is amazing – imagine flying down a ski slope whilst only having 4% vision and having to rely on a sighted guide who communicates to you via Bluetooth in their helmets.”
Rachael is a former Paralympic swimmer who competed in Beijing 2008 and is the current European record holder for 200m butterfly, world record holder for 50m butterfly and British record holder for 200m backstroke.
“The visually impaired alpine skiers are inspirational”
“It’s a huge change from the summer Games for both the Olympics and Paralympics. In London, GB had 541 athletes in the Olympics and we only sent 56 to Russia, in the Paralympics we had 294 athletes and we are only sending 12 to Russia. These athletes work just as hard as the summer athletes (sometimes harder because of constant travel and living away from families to train). The nation got behind all the Paralympians in London and I hope they can do it again for our winter athletes in Russia.”
Ones to watch
“My number one thing to watch would be the visually impaired alpine skiers in action. These guys are crazy. I don’t like to use ‘inspirational’ for the Paralympics as it can be patronising, but wow, I will hold my hand up and say: that is one brave thing to do. Visually impaired people don’t have the freedom to jump in a car or get on a bike to get from A to B, so having the technology that gives them the freedom on the slopes is pretty special.”
The former wheelchair racer turned hand-cyclist was a member of the British Cycling Paralympic development squad. He has since returned to a childhood fascination and achieved his pilot’s licence.
“The athletes are completely fearless!”
“For me the greatest thing about the Paralympics is the overwhelming achievement of the athletes involved. The way in which they have overcome the harshest obstacles that life can throw at them and move forward to accomplish great things is testament to the athletic strength of mind required.
“I particularly enjoy the winter sports because of the way the athletes must be completely fearless! The way they throw themselves down a hill side, over frozen terrain, across the ice and so on leaves us all ‘oooing’ and ‘arghing’. Because of the immense level of competition, and in order to win the medals, they must push aside any natural human sense of fear and this in my eyes is what makes them truly super human!”
Ones to watch
“I’m probably most looking forward to the alpine events. I have a close connection with skier Mick Brennan who I went through [Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre] Headley Court with and was out in Vancouver in 2010. We tried the sports and got used to life with our new disabilities. Back then, he was the last person we would expect to make the team but now look. He’ll be out in Sochi with us cheering him on all the way again representing his country, but this time, rather than as a front line solider, as a proud Paralympian.”
Watch the Paralympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony from 3:30pm on Friday 7 March live on Channel 4