Tim HollingsworthFor someone whose only previous experience was the truly unique one of a home summer Games at London 2012, a week spent attending the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee's Paralympic Games Chef De Mission Briefing Seminar was always going to contain some new, and extreme, moments. 

As I reflect on the time just gone, however, I am not sure I was quite prepared for just how exciting and different it would be. Or how much, as the chief executive of the British Paralympic Association (BPA), I am now looking forward to my first Winter Games.

There are things that were very different.  The geography, environment and language of course - a significant factor for us now after the one-off nature of a home Games and very much the norm as we look past Sochi to Rio, Pyeongchang and beyond. 

Sochi is a challenging environment and, like almost all Winter Games, is split between the "coastal" ice-based venues and the snow-based competition an hour's drive away in the mountain resort of Rosa Khutor. Added to that is the amazing development of the region, be it new roads, rail and airport and a significant building programme now in full swing.

Rosa Khutor Sochi 2014The mountain resort of Rosa Khutor will host competition at the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics

I was perhaps, after London, not prepared for the relative lack of readiness witnessed as we toured the various sites. Whilst several of the major stadia and arenas are complete, of which more later, there is still a major amount of building work to be done - not least at the mountain and coastal athlete villages, but also the transport links and surrounding areas that are being transformed utterly as a result of the Games.

With less than a year to go, it seemed astonishing how much there is incomplete, but equally it seems assured that the work will be done on time, certainly to the Russians themselves but also to many old Paralympic hands (some of whom remarked that it had nothing on Athens...)

What I was prepared for, was the excellence of the completed venues. We saw some great evidence of world class arenas with equally world class accessibility – the Curling rink - the "Ice Cube" - has already hosted a Wheelchair World Championships this year whilst the Ice and Sledge Hockey arena – the "Shayba" (or "Puck") is totally finished and impressive.  

Meanwhile, in the mountains, the ski routes of Rosa Khutor have passed several key tests, not least with the recent disability skiing World Cup event.

I was also ready for the great commitment, energy and attentiveness of the Sochi 2014 team (ably supported by the IPC's own staff, there in numbers).  There are a number of "foreign" experts working with a very dedicated Russian Organising Committee and whilst the working style is obviously different to that of London 2012 (with perhaps a rather less rigid approach to deadlines a good example) they were knowledgeable, extremely friendly and very proud of the Games they are going to put on. 

Led by the impressive and approachable Dmitry Chernyshenko, who showed his huge personal commitment to the Paralympic Games by being present on the platform throughout the week.
Dmitry Chernyshenko 2Sochi 2014 President and chief executive Dmitry Chernyshenko has shown a huge commitment to the Paralympic Games

Last of all, I was not surprised by the warmth of the engagement with and the expertise demonstrated by our colleagues from across the Paralympic family. 

A Winter games is not a huge event – only some 700 athletes from around 45 nations take part, and the line-up is dominated by countries from Europe, North America and East Asia. 

But it is approached by every nation with the same commitment to excellence and determination to succeed that characterises the summer Games. Whether it is Canada with its team of nearly 50 athletes or  New Zealand with just two or three, the scrutiny of the plans and the rigour of the questioning was the same. Impressive stuff.

ParalympicsGB will be between 12 and 27 strong in Sochi, depending on the ability of our sledge hockey team to defy the odds in a final qualifier later this year and make it to the Games (having given themselves every chance with their magnificent bronze at the B Pool World Championships in Japan last week).   

We will have our wheelchair curling team, safely qualified and looking to replicate the medal won in Turin in 2006. And we will have around six or seven alpine skiers too, depending on qualification.

That mix includes two visually impaired skiers who have won World Championship and World Cup medals in the past few weeks, Kelly Gallagher (with guide Charlotte Evans) and Jade Etherington (with guide John Clarke). Their recent success is no guarantee and it would be wrong to put too much store on it at this time, but none the less it does show the potential we have to bring home medals next year after a blank was drawn in Vancouver.
Kelly-GallagherVisually impaired alpine skier Kelly Gallagher is one of Britain’s biggest medal hopes at the Sochi 2014 Paralympics

Certainly everything we considered and planned for this week was treated with exactly the same attention and seriousness as the 300 athlete, 20 sport strong team we took to London.  ParalympicsGB will be led in Sochi by Chef de Mission Penny Briscoe and, supported by Games Services Manager Phil Smith, she was on fine form at the Seminar: driving our agenda, scrutinising every detail and questioning the organisers on anything that didn't meet her ambitions.

Penny embodies a belief in being world-class in support of our athletes, and making sure that everyone who pulls on a British vest is given the chance to be the very best they can be. 

That will be our approach in Russia next year - the scale of the event and our athlete cohort matters nothing compared to our desire to maximise this moment and our support for our athletes.  

As someone now with only the smallest taste of what is in store, with a knowledge of what an incredible region of the world it is we are going to and what great people will be hosting us, I can't wait.

Tim Hollingsworth is the chief executive of the British Paralympic Association