Day two in Rio and already the journey here seems a long time ago.
Thirteen athletes, four coaches and five support staff made it to Heathrow’s Terminal 5 on Thursday morning from Cardiff, London and Sheffield – despite heavy traffic on the M1 and M25 everyone arrives in time to check in and after a hearty breakfast we board the British Airways flight to Rio. Twelve hours on a plane is a challenge at the best of times but with instructions from psychologist Tim not to sleep for more than two hours to try and minimise jet lag it is time to catch up with the latest films and concentrate on staying awake.
We arrive in Rio at just after 8pm local time – just after midnight back in the UK – and are greeted by smiling, friendly volunteers and members of ParalympicsGB operations team who make sure that all the baggage is collected and put on the right bus. It feels warm and it is not raining – something of a relief as we know that when it rains in Rio – it really rains.
After four years of planning and preparation we are finally here.
The athletes’ village is one of the most unique aspects of a multi-sport Games and unites not just countries but sports as everyone is housed in high rise apartment blocks. ParalympicsGB has been assigned its own building and it is adorned with Union flags. They have done an amazing job in creating a welcoming team base and outside the apartment block there is a sociable decking area overlooking a ‘garden’ with deck chairs, bean bags, a large TV and even a pool table. The tree covered mountains provide a scenic backdrop although we have yet to get our first view of Christ the Redeemer.
Table tennis has been allocated three apartments on two floors and everyone is glad to find their rooms, unpack and finally get to sleep.
Food is never far from the athletes’ minds and at 10am the next morning we all troop down to the huge dining hall which is one of the main features of the village. Breakfast ranges from cereal, yoghurt and fruit to steak and eggs but it is safe to say that no one leaves hungry. After a welcome induction by ParalympicsGB Chef de Mission Penny Briscoe we head over to the transport mall to catch a bus to the table tennis competition venue Riocentro 3, which is only a ten minute bus drive away.
GB has been assigned one hour in the warm-up hall and despite the long journey yesterday all the athletes are keen to get a feel for the venue and as always give 100% to the session. Our first view of the competition hall is impressive and conjures up memories of London 2012. Hopefully Rio 2016 will provide more happy memories for the team.
After a late lunch the coaches and support staff investigate the Village Plaza which is an area where teams can relax and socialise. There is a shop and a post office but we head for McDonalds – not for a Big Mac but for a cappuccino. Among the athletes who are also enjoying the relaxed atmosphere are Will Bayley and Paul Karabardak, who have found two deckchairs and are making the most of some downtime.
For those who want a bit of excitement there is a simulator where you can experience riding a rollercoaster, kayaking or mountain biking. It proves popular and Matt, Neil and Jason cannot resist checking it out – boys will be boys.
After an early night we are back in the warm-up hall in the morning. The standing players train for an hour followed by the wheelchairs and everyone is looking sharp and focused. Coaches Greg, Matt and Neil double as sparring partners while Performance Director Gorazd keeps a watchful eye on proceedings and physio Jason is on hand to oversee the warm-up and warm down.
Four days to go before competition starts. The hard work has been done and the team is ready.