Seven-time Paralympic medal winner Cheri Blauwet believes January’s IPC Athletics World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand will give a good indication of who the likely medal contenders are for London 2012.
With less than two years to go until the next Paralympic Games, American Blauwet thinks Christchurch acts as the perfect appetizer.
Speaking to www.paralympic.org, the International Paralympic Committee’s website, Blauwet said: “I know from both the perspective of the athletes, as well as the broader community like sponsors, coaches, team managers, everyone is looking to see what proven track record can emerge at the World Championships and then just see how that plays out for the Games.
“It certainly sets the pace and the theme around who is going to be the frontrunners and who is going to be promising for the Paralympics.”
After competing in three Paralympic Games in 2000, 2004 – where she won 800m T53 gold – and 2008, Blauwet has taken a step back from her athletics career and is now a resident physician at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital at the Harvard Medical School in the USA.
She is also an IPC Paralympian Ambassador spreading the word globally about the Paralympic Movement, a role that will see her attend London 2012. And she believes a number of young, up and coming athletes will be using the World Championships to stake their claim to also be on the flight to the British capital.
“I think the World Championships are an incredible opportunity to compete at a high level,” said Blauwet who sustained a spinal chord injury as a young child in a farming accident.
“I also believe a lot of athletes competing there do not know if London is on the cards for them.
“So Christchurch is an important way for athletes to prove to their teams and to the broader athletics community that they’re on-form and ready to perform. Then hopefully they will continue to ride that wave of success through to London.”
Blauwet also believes that Christchurch is vitally important for athletes as it will give them a chance to see how their rivals have improved since the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games and what improvements they need to make ahead of London.
Cheri Blauwet said: “Athletes should think, ‘in my last phase of competition where did I feel that my competitors had an edge on me and what am I going to do in the next two to four years to bring that particular element of my talent or skill around to where it needs to be?’.
“When you arrive at a competition like Christchurch or the Paralympics, you find that certainly in the two to four years since your last competition that people will have inevitably gotten better.
“So if you are not breaking down and analyzing your performance ability to also understand how you can continue to evolve and enhance your talents, you’ll quickly find yourself being passed up,” she added.
After competing at the World Championships in 1998 and 2002, Blauwet is fully aware of the importance of such events and how a good performance in Christchurch could spur athletes onto better things.
Cheri said: “The ability to perform at the halfway mark between Paralympics is very important for the morale of the athletes. It enables them to say ‘I have this opportunity to go to a big stage in preparation for the Paralympics, without it being the Paralympics’.
“It’s a big warm-up and it gives athletes something to focus on so that your goal doesn’t have to be so delayed, and your gratification doesn’t have to be so delayed.”
With more than 1,000 athletes from 70 countries set to take part January’s World Championships are set to be the biggest Paralympic sporting event to take place in the southern hemisphere since the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. It is also the first time the event has been staged outside of Europe, a fact not lost on Blauwet who believes it will further spread the word of the Paralympic Movement.
“It’s important for us as Paralympic athletes to remember that the Paralympic Movement is represented by diverse cultures.
“Organizing committees also have a lot of abilities to stage incredible events that highlight their own culture to the world and the strength of their region.
“New Zealand has been extremely generous in offering to host the World Championships and I know that they’ve done a tremendous amount of preparation and that it’s going to be an incredibly well-staged event.
“The understanding that we are building a cultural embassy is important to remember. I truly believe in the power of the Paralympic Movement to do that on a global level.
“I’ve seen that happen, so I don’t have to believe it because I know it has happened. And I think it is one thing that we can continue to be very proud of.”
Some big names competing in the World Championships include Great Britain’s David Weir, South Africa’s ‘Blade Runner’ Oscar Pistorius, Irish sprinter and ‘Fastest Paralympian on Earth’ Jason Smyth and the Brazilian sprinting duo of Terezinha Guilhermina and Lucas Prado.