As the calendar moved in to 2012, everyone involved in the incredible project that is the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games could not help but feel the excitement and intensity of what is ahead of us rise up a notch or two.
Since January 1 the year has been notable for a number of milestones being reached – perhaps for some it feels like every day marks some element in their preparations.
Today is a particularly special one however for everyone involved in the Paralympic Movement. It marks 200 days to go to the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
For the British Paralympic Association (BPA) it marks a good opportunity both to review how far we have come in the last few months and in particular to look ahead to the remaining days ahead.
Our preparations to support our athletes at the Games continue at a massive pace. The challenge is huge – our biggest ever team competing on home soil and seeking to perform better than ever before in terms of medal success.
As chief executive my job has been to ensure we are best prepared and resourced as a support team for our athletes. To that extent I am particularly pleased with two crucial appointments to ParalympicsGB: Craig Hunter (pictured) as Chef de Mission and Ann Hogbin as Deputy Chef de Mission (operations). Craig joined in September and since that time has led our preparations superbly, building on the huge reputation and credibility that he gained from his experiences in Delhi as Chef for Commonwealth Games England. Ann is a more recent appointment, and again her vast experience of multisport Games means that we will ensure we have covered every base.
In fact, when it comes a wealth of experience one statistic stands out to give me real comfort. Between Craig and Ann, and Penny Briscoe (ParalympicsGB' Deputy Chef, performance) and Caroline Searle (chief press officer), the four senior members of ParalympicsGB's staff team have experienced a staggering 54 multisport Games between them. I defy any other team to be able to demonstrate that level of expertise. Our biggest team is in very safe hands.
Fifteen athletes, from sailing and table tennis, have already been selected to ParalympicsGB and we've been very pleased with how much interest there has been in these announcements – a real sign that there is going to be a big appetite for the Paralympics this summer.
We are also working hard behind the scenes to make sure that we provide the core staff team with all the access and information they need. Last week for example we took team leaders from all the sports to the Paralympic Village to see where the team will be based during the Games – the first Paralympic team to hold such a visit.
I think for everyone there was a real sense that LOCOG and the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) had done an excellent job with the accommodation and that it was exactly the world-class environment that athletes need in order to prepare themselves for competing on the biggest stage in the world.
The next 200 days are of course crucial in terms of honing performance as well. Just this weekend our fantastic Para-cycling team are competing at their Track World Championships in Los Angeles, hoping to continue their hugely impressive past record of success. Just as in the Olympic and road disciplines cycling is one of our highest achieving Paralympic sports: our cyclists brought home more gold medals from Beijing 2008 than any other sport, 17 of them in total with another three silvers to boot. Other events follow in the coming weeks – including the British Swimming Championships at the Aquatics Centre, and later in the year the BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester.
London is driving change in other ways. We have often said that we hope London 2012 will provide two major points of inspiration: inspiring more disabled people to take up sport, and inspiring a shift in public perceptions of disability sport, and through this, disability itself. We're already breaking new ground on how disabled athletes are portrayed and a lot of the partners are to be thanked for supporting us in this. The recent Sainsbury's and BT short-form programmes that are being shown at the moment on Channel 4 are a great example of this and there is more to come with C4's programming playing a major role.
We are also working with Deloitte to ensure that Deloitte Parasport, which is effectively the yellow pages for disability sport, has its biggest ever marketing support to help capture some of the interest that we hope our athletes' performances will inspire.
With Craig Hunter leading on the team preparations, I have been giving a lot of my attention to how we can build on the momentum of London. I am currently preparing a new strategic plan that will take the organisation through to Rio and beyond. It will recognise the important role that we can play in the wider disability landscape and the opportunity we have to support and facilitate real change while understanding that if we are all to benefit from the opportunities a home Games brings, then partnership working is key. I look forward to outlining this in more detail in the spring.
However, with the Games edging ever closer, right now it is hard looking beyond London. I am incredibly proud of the hard work that is being done every day by all the athletes, staff and support staff to make the British team that steps out into the stadium in 200 days time the best we have ever produced.
Tim Hollingsworth is chief executive of the British Paralympic Association (BPA)