To mark six months to go until the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games in Canada, here are 15 athletes, one from each sport, to keep an eye out for when the Games take place between 7-15 August.
Archery – Matt Stutzman (USA)
Stutzman hit the headlines at London 2012 by winning Paralympic silver despite the fact he was born without arms. Images of him shooting a bow and arrow were amongst some of the most iconic images of London 2012. He is a force to be reckoned with in the men’s individual compound open archery competition.
Athletics – Yunidis Castillo (CUB)
Castillo is one of only three female para-athletes to have run the 100m in under 12 seconds. Known as “The Bullet”, she completed a unique triple hat-trick in 2013 winning world titles in the 100m, 200m, 400m, just like she had done at London 2012 and the 2011 World Championships. The 27-year-old is Cuba’s most successful Paralympian of all-time with five gold medals.
Boccia – Dirceu Jose Pinto (Brazil)
Pinto is set to make his Parapan American Games debut in August and is one of the world’s best players in the world. At London 2012 he won individual and pairs gold in the BC4 class, just as he had done in Beijing 2008. His contest with his pairs partner Eliseu dos Santos - who currently has a higher world ranking - for individual gold in Toronto could be one of the highlights of the Games.
Cycling – Jose Frank Rodriguez (Dominican Republic)
In 2011 in Guadalajara, Rodny Minier Castillo won silver in the men’s road race C4-C5, the highest ranked medal by any Dominican Republic athlete. This year his teammate Jose Frank Rodriguez is one to watch as he is ranked 10th in the world in his class, 12 places above Castillo.
Football 5 - Argentina
After winning silver at Guadalajara 2011 and at the 2014 World Championships, Argentina must be fed-up of losing out on gold to fierce rivals Brazil by now. They are getting closer to their rivals all the time however and it took a goal in extra-time to deny them the world title last year.
Football 7 – Brazil
Football 7 was not included four years ago, but as with any football discipline Brazil are always a team to be reckoned with, especially with Jan Francisco Brito da Costa being amongst the world’s best players. The team finished fourth at London 2012.
Goalball – Canada’s women
The Canadian team won bronze last time round and are currently ranked seventh in the world behind USA in fourth and Brazil in third. They know winning gold on home soil in Toronto will secure them a berth at Rio 2016.
Judo – Eduardo Avila Sanchez (Mexico)
Sanchez caused a major shock at last year’s World Championships when he beat the Ukrainian Paralympic champion to take gold in the men’s -81kg class. Should he compete in Toronto, he will be desperate to maintain his winning form ahead of the Paralympic Games.
Powerlifting – Amalia Perez (Mexico)
Perez is the defending champion heading into Toronto and is a two-time Paralympic gold medallist. She missed most of the 2013 season with a serious shoulder injury but made an impressive comeback at last year’s World Championships in Dubai, UAE, winning gold in the -61kg class with a lift of 128kg, twice her bodyweight.
Sitting volleyball – USA women
The US team will start as strong favourites and gold in Toronto will set them up well for Rio 2016 where they are aiming to finally topple China. The US team settled for silver behind China at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Paralympic Games, as well as last year’s World Championships. Expect Katie Holloway to star for the US.
Swimming – Daniel Dias (Brazil)
Dias is arguably the biggest name in para-swimming having won 10 Paralympic and 17 world titles, making him Brazil’s most successful Paralympian of all-time. He holds 10 world records and at the Guadalajara 2011 Parapans won 11 gold medals from 11 events.
Table tennis – Cristian Dettoni (Chile)
Dettoni was Chile’s only gold medallist at the 2011 Parapan American Games and will be looking to retain his Class 7 title in Toronto. Currently ranked 19th in the world, Dettoni will face a stiff challenge from Brazil’s world No. 15 Paulo Sergio Salmin Filho, the only athlete from the Americas ranked higher than him in the class.
Wheelchair basketball – Colombia’s men
Colombia created a seismic shock at the 2011 Parapans when they defeated the much fancied Canadian side in the semi-finals. Although they eventually lost to USA in the gold medal match, beating the Toronto 2015 hosts was no mean feat as less than 10 months later Canada won Paralympic gold at London 2012.
Wheelchair rugby – Zak Madell (Canada)
Madell is nothing short of a superstar. Not only was the 20-year-old Canada’s top scorer at last year’s World Championships in Denmark, he was also crowned the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Canada are now ranked second in the world and the side are only going to get better as Madell reaches his prime.
Wheelchair tennis – Emmy Kaiser (USA)
Aged just 20 at the last Parapans, Kaiser won silver in the singles and gold in the doubles with her partner Mackenzie Soldan. Kaiser will be hoping for double gold this time round, but will face stiff competition from Chile’s Francisa Mardones who is currently ranked world No.13, one place ahead of her.
The 2015 Parapan American Games will feature more than 1,600 athletes from 28 countries who will compete in 15 sports from 7-15 August.