Paralympians prepare for sights, sounds and heat of Rio

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Samba, heat and passion are all things associated with Brazil, so what have Paralympians been doing to prepare for the unique Rio vibe?

It may not be the first thing you would think of when thinking of preparations for the Paralympics.

But Welsh Paralympic athletes have been training listening to loud music to get ready for the party atmosphere in Rio.

It is one of a number of things they have done to "be comfortable with being uncomfortable".

Although many of them made their names at London 2012, coaches have warned the difference between competing at a home games and in Rio will be a real challenge for some athletes.

Anthony Hughes, National Performance Manager at Disability Sport Wales, said: "We have had loud music on while training as the crowd are going to create a hell of a noise, so it is important to get used to it, and keep focused, even though it will be like being in the middle of party.

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Image caption Aled Davies and then coach Anthony Hughes after he won gold in the discus at London 2012

Mr Hughes, who is in Rio as coach for javelin (F46) world champion Hollie Arnold, from Ystrad Mynach, and shot-putter (T20) Sabrina Fortune, from Mold, added: "In Rio there is going to be a huge passion and Brazilian athletes will feed off of the crowd, so the mantra for us has been to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

"Compared to London it is going to be very much a Brazilian affair so home athletes will feed off the energy and the mantra."

Shot-putter (F42) Aled Davies, who won gold in the discus at London 2012, said: "I am excited. It will be very different from my first games, which was at home and where I was fearless and had nothing to lose. Now I'm pegged for a medal and expected to throw big."

T20 1,500m runner Steve Morris, from Cardiff, was getting ready for the heat in Rio before even flying out there.

His coach James Thie, performance director of athletics and lecturer at Cardiff Met, said: "As part of his preparations we have used heat chambers for recovery runs. Since he has got out to the holding camp in Belo his acclimatization has been super quick.

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Image caption Steve Morris came sixth at London 2012, but is second in the world now and hoping for a medal in Rio

"The climate is something we have been very aware of. So we have been making sure of a smart hydration strategy with recovery products both pre and post training."

And it is not just conditions inside the sporting arenas the Paralympians have had to prepare for.

Archer (Recurve) Dave Phillips, 50, from Newport, said visiting Rio in a test event last year and seeing the conditions of a favela was confronting.

"When you think of Rio you imagine beaches, but there are two sides to Rio, the rich and the poor, and some of the conditions are not good.

"It made me think I must appreciate what I have got at home."

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Phillips is among the athletes who will not have family to support him at the games because the journey is too far.

He said: "We currently foster two teenage girls and I have two sons, but nobody is coming to Rio. My wife has to look after the two girls."

It is a far cry from the home support many of the Paralympians had at London 2012, both from the crowd as well as family and friends who travelled to London to support the athletes.

Brian Davies, Director of Elite Performance, Sport Wales said: "The environment will be alien for these guys. Some of them are quite experienced. Those who have been to previous Paralympics stand a good chance, but some of the younger guys it might be a bit eye-watering for them."

Sabrina Fortune (F20 discus) is the youngest Welsh athlete on the ParalympicsGB team, and has made the trip to Rio without her family.

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Image caption People pose with the Paralympics symbol in Rio

She said: "I am feeling confident but a bit nervous as there are going to be so many people there. It is very exciting, everyone at home is willing me to do well.

"My parents can't make it, my dad is a milkman so it is too far. If it was in London then maybe."

Twenty-six Welsh athletes have been selected as part of the 264 ParalympicsGB squad and for some it will be their first Paralympics.

Jon Morgan, executive director at Disability Sport Wales said: "We have got nine new Paralympians this time. Developing the new generation is what it is about.

"Looking forward to Tokyo 2020 we have got some athletes who are in the system and will be at the right point then to win medals."

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