Every team competing in the Paralympic Games is given a special welcome ceremony in the Athletes’ Village and today it was the turn of Great Britain, together with the Central African Republic, Slovenia, the Dominican Republic and Moldova. On the hottest day since we arrived a few of the athletes decide to stay in the apartments and rest but the majority of the team join a large group from ParalympicsGB in the Village Plaza for the official welcome.
The Chef de Mission of each country is presented to the Mayor of the Village and after the National Anthem is played gifts are exchanged. As God Save the Queen rings out around the Plaza the sight of so many athletes singing their hearts out brings a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye. With the flags from all five countries raised, in true Brazilian style it is time for the dancing to begin and as we leave there are shouts of ‘Good Luck’ from the dancers – one of whom has clearly drawn the short straw and is dressed as a tree.
Ross and Kim are representing us at the Welcome Reception in British House, which is situated about 5km away on the top floor of the Shopping Metropolitano in the Barra area of Rio with a spectacular view of the Olympic Park. This is GB’s official residence in Rio where medals will be celebrated and athletes can meet their nearest and dearest during the Games. There is more Brazilian music and dancing and a speech from the British Ambassador who wishes the team luck and reminds all the athletes present about the power of sport to inspire the young.
This morning it was our turn to practice in the competition hall at Riocentro. Every team is allocated one practice session in the competition hall and we arrived in plenty of time as we are also able to use the athletes’ lounge.
The competition hall has a very different feel to the practice and warm-up halls and has eight tables which have already been set up with a chair for the umpire and a desk for the scorer. It is Jack’s first experience of a Paralympic arena and he is practicing today with his regular team partner Tommy Urhaug, the Norwegian Paralympic champion. The two may be rivals when the competition starts but today they are friends and Jack could not have a better role model.
The standing players alternate with each other to keep the session fresh and coaches Greg, Neil and Matt also act as sparring partners once again. No-one is more focused than Ash, who is also making his Paralympic debut and is clearly determined to make the most of his last minute selection.
The two hour session goes quickly and everyone is keen to make the most of the time they have to familiarise themselves with the feel of the hall.
On Thursday when the competition starts this will be a battlefield. For now, it is the Field of Dreams.