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TX: 05.09.08 - Paralympics Preview

PRESENTER: Liz Barclay and Peter White
Downloaded from www.bbc.co.uk/radio4
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BARCLAY
Now just when you thought that there were no more medals to be won in Beijing this year the sports fest is about to start all over again. In 24 hours time the opening ceremony for the Paralympics will get underway and Peter is in Beijing for the next two weeks and will be reporting for us. Peter, the Olympic opening ceremony was spectacular, what do we know about its Paralympic equivalent?

WHITE
Not a great deal yet Liz, they always keep the opening ceremonies completely pretty much under wraps but doubtless there'll be plenty of dancing and fireworks and it will go on a long time. There were a few people at a sort of preview last night but they would have to kill them if they told us what was going on. What we do know is it's just been revealed is who's carrying the flag for the GB team, the identity of the athlete who's going to be doing that is middle distance runner Danny Crates who won gold in the 800 metres in Athens, he was originally a rugby player before he lost an arm in a car crash 14 years old, he's a hugely popular member of the squad and he's an ambassador for 2012 and indeed they voted for him, so it was very democratic.

BARCLAY
Now Peter the Paralympics like to be spoken of in the same breath as the Olympics can they really claim to punch that kind of weight?

WHITE
Yeah I think they can actually Liz. I mean in terms of numbers alone, it's second only to the Olympics as a world sporting event, there are around 4,000 competitors, almost as many support staff and they come from a 148 countries. It's being taken increasingly seriously, I mean when I attended my first Paralympics in Atlanta in 1996 we took a radio team of four with an independent company to do a few TV highlights. This year, on television alone, there'll be six hours a day of coverage on the red button with a highlights programme each evening at peak time between 7.00 and 8.00 on BBC 2.

BARCLAY
How times change. But after our huge and rather unexpected success in the Olympics how is team GB expected to do?

WHITE
This is quite interesting really, it's almost the reverse story of what we used to have. We're used to punch in under our weight in the Olympics and very much over our weight in the Paralympics. We've always been a real pace setter, ever since the 1948 Stoke Mandeville, the forerunner of the Paralympics. For the past two games we've come second in the Paralympics - in Sydney to the hosts Australia in 2004 to this year's host China. And this time you have to take it for granted really that China will dominate but we could be pushed to make the top three, which we don't normally have to say. You get the impression that this time, rather than talking up their prospects, it's more about managing expectations. At yesterday's Paralympics GB press conference the British team manager Phil Lane explained why.

LANE
We've always faced challenges from the US, from Australia, from Canada and Germany and those guys, like us, are striving to be the best they can be.

WHITE
But do we suspect that some of them are better prepared than they were in the previous couple of Paralympics?

LANE
I think there's no doubt. I've spoken with my colleagues in the US and they were very upset by their performance in Athens, they said they felt they were really well set to try and repair the damage. And of course the Australians, well our competition goes back a long, long way - we're rivals and you know that they're never going to give us an easy ride.

WHITE
So what would satisfy you at the end of this Paralympics?

LANE
I think if we can hit our targets around the level that we set - 35-40 medals with some good performances - I'll be very pleased about that. Where that leaves us in the medal table who knows but past analysis will tell you that's somewhere in the top five.

BARCLAY
Team manager Phil Lane. So Peter where can we look for gold?

WHITE
Rather as with the Olympics really. Cycling is very much a success story, the squad is run along Olympic lines and they will certainly be expecting a clutch of gold medals. Our swimmers too will do well and watch out for the name of David Roberts - Britain's answer to Michael Phelps in the Paralympics who's going for four golds, which would put him above the iconic Tani Grey-Thompson with a total of 12 Paralympic golds throughout his whole career. But perhaps the most exciting prospect of all is a kind of male Tani equivalent - David Weir. Now David is going for five golds in wheelchair racing, all the way up from 400 metres to the marathon.

WEIR
Well I've got four team races, it's two or three rounds for each race, over eight days I think.

WHITE
You're described as going for five golds, what are the realistic prospects of that?

WEIR
I'm not sure, I'm just here to get one gold and if I get more it's a bonus. We'll see, I don't like to say how many because that might be shooting the gun a little bit.

WHITE
And your first impressions of Beijing and the village and the whole atmosphere here?

WEIR
I was here in May, I wasn't in the village in May but I was here in May and the stadium was absolutely awesome, the pollution was a bit bad then but they seem to have sorted that out and the village is probably the best village I've been in, just with the access where it's so smooth, the roads are flat and the food hall is massive and there's a load of choice of food. And just silly little things like it's got the nutritional data on what you're eating and stuff like that, it's just little things like that make it a little bit better.

WHITE
David Weir. And it's really interesting how many of the athletes I've spoken to have raved about the food, the softness of the beds and the DVDs which the Olympians kindly left behind for them to watch.

BARCLAY
They like their luxuries.

WHITE
They do, they like their luxuries, these athletes, yeah.

BARCLAY
And how is Beijing preparing for this event, you've said the flags have changed but has it recovered from the Olympics yet?

WHITE
Well yeah I'd say they're very much up for it. The Olympic banners, as I've said, have gone. I've just been driven down actually to the Velodrome and there are Paralympic flags on every lamppost, literally. I'm not sure how they've done it but there's a feeling that the service industry has been prepared for a disabled invasion, certainly in the hotels and in the restaurants I've been in they've been helpful, sometimes almost too helpful. And I had a rather hot dish the other night and it was one of those ones where you know they put the flame on it permanently and I was trying to eat it with a spoon, it was all I could do to stop the waiter from feeding it to me forkful by forkful. And a colleague told me that every time he comes out of the building in his wheelchair he has to fight off the volunteers who are competing to push him wherever he wants to go and sometimes where he doesn't want to go. What's really - it's being discussed, that's the interesting thing. In yesterday's China Daily there was an article suggesting that because of the country's traditional reverence for age and infirmity some of the volunteers might find that independent and self reliant foreign disabled people could resent over helpfulness but at least they're talking about it, that's good.

BARCLAY
Thanks very much Peter. And I know that we'll be hearing from you again in the days to come, thank you for joining us.

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