21 January 2021
Impact stories: the team behind the team
Preparation is key for every elite athlete who wants to excel at the Paralympic Games – and behind the scenes there is a team of individuals and experts who work tirelessly to ensure ParalympicsGB’s athletes are able to do just that.
Science and medicine support in Paralympic sport has evolved significantly over the last 20 years and the personnel involved with the British team travelling to the Games now includes around 20 practitioners.
Representing medicine, physiotherapy, nursing, nutrition and mental health, many join ParalympicsGB from the Home Country Sports Institutes.
Practitioners are not only on the ground during the Games, working hard to ensure athletes are in peak physical and mental shape, they also help back home in the months and years preceding the main event.
Dr Tom Paulson, ParalympicsGB’s Head of Performance, explains:
“We spend a significant period engaging with sports in the months before the Games to ensure our core practitioners are familiar with the athletes, coaches and practitioners they will be working with during the event itself.
“These relationships are essential to building trust and familiarity. It’s really important we know each other well as a team, including our strengths and weaknesses - and how people like their tea or coffee made!”
Recces to host nations are a critical part of Games preparation. Paulson first visited Tokyo in early 2018, visiting the Athlete Village, hotels and competition venues.
He explains: “Recces are incredibly important for the science and medicine team, particularly the discipline leads. As Head of Performance I normally go on three recces prior to the Games, accompanied by the Chief Medical Officer.
“We also try to ensure our lead physio, nurse and Prep camp staff experience the environment prior to the Games. Recces are invaluable when it comes to planning for our Prep Camp and Village Performance Centres, as well as establishing local medical contacts.”
But it’s not just about the bricks and mortar. Paulson’s team also pay special attention to the local environment. It’s important to ensure the team is familiar with what to expect - both in terms of climate and culture.
“Each Games has it’s unique climate. For Tokyo 2020, managing the heat and humidity is a key part of our Games strategy. It’s also a long way to travel and the time-zone difference means jetlag can have a real impact. For the Beijing 2022 Winter Games the travel issues are the same, but the cold is a key factor rather than the heat.”
Logistics are important too. Paulson has to work out exactly what equipment – from ice baths to massage tables and an ultrasound machine – will be needed, and will fit, in the spaces allocated to the team. Much of the equipment is freighted to the host country well in advance.
For Paulson, the aim is clear.
“It’s about creating the best possible environment for the army of practitioners who support the athletes, so they can do everything they can to get athletes on the start line in the best possible shape – physically and mentally.”
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