Having the 2010 Paralympic venues finished this year in Whistler will play a key role in making sure the Canadian team is in the top three in medal standings.
“It is an incredible advantage to us,” said Blair McIntosh, who has just been named the Chef de Mission for the 2010 Paralympic team.
“... We are going to be able to compete and practice on the field of play where we are going to be competing during the 2010 Games and we are going to take advantage of that.”
The Chef de Mission makes sure that all logistical and other issues are taken care of for the team so that athletes can focus on competing.
McIntosh toured the Whistler venues, which will host the closing ceremonies and all of the Paralympic events except for sledge hockey and wheelchair curling, last week. The Games, which will host about 1,350 athletes and team officials, will run March 12 to 21, 2010.
“I am very impressed,” he said. “The Nordic facility is just going to be overwhelming for the athletes. Just the sheer beauty of the environment is inspiring.
“And we got to drive around the course a sit skier will use and it is going to be very impressive.”
He encouraged Sea to Sky residents to think about volunteering for the Paralympics as a way of truly understanding the awesome nature of the athletes and the event.
“There is a lot of volunteer opportunities available and I think people will be astounded by the athletic performances of our athletes, and some of the background stories and the history of our athletes as well,” said McIntosh.
“I think the best way to capture what the Paralympic Games are all about is to volunteer and get involved and I know in a community this size that that is one of the things that will be a real bonus for our athletes is to see that the community is that involved.”
There have been concerns voiced in the community about what role school kids will play in the Paralympics. Traditionally local kids are taken to see events as a way of educating youth about people with physical disabilities and to cheer on teams. However, with the school district already proposing that Whistler schools close for the Olympics some parents are worried about students missing more classes.
McIntosh said there are many ways for the kids to get involved with events running at different times of the day, not just during school hours. It’s something VANOC and the school board will have to work out, he said.
“If there are concerns about closing the school there are going to be competitions throughout the day and into the evening so there are different opportunities for (students),” said McIntosh.
“That is something from a VANOC standpoint and a school board standpoint that they would have to work out. I know it has been done in the past and it really gives the school an opportunity to learn more about Paralympic sport. But again, that opportunity will be given through awareness and education leading up to the Games as well.”
McIntosh and a team from the Canadian Paralympic Committee also held a day of meetings with VANOC staff in Vancouver.
The two top challenges facing Paralympic sport in Canada right now, said McIntosh, are recruiting more athletes and continuing to raise awareness around athletes with physical disabilities.
It’s expected that Canada’s Paralympic team will include 40 to 50 athletes, that’s up from 33 at the Torino 2006 Winter Games.
There will be 60 events at the 2010 Paralympics with the addition of men’s and women’s alpine super combined — in which alpine skiers will complete both a super G and a slalom run with the gold medal going to the skier with the best combined time.
McIntosh is currently the Director of Games for the Sport Alliance of Ontario, and has been a pivotal games consultant or mission staff leader to more than 30 major Games, including the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games, 11 Canada Games and the 2000 World Women’s Hockey Championships. He has been the Ontario Team Chef de Mission at the Canada Games four times.