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Page last updated at 11:50 GMT, Thursday, 20 January 2011

Paralympians face key test

2011 IPC Athletics World Championships
Venue: Christchurch, New Zealand Dates: 21-30 January
Coverage: Daily video highlights on the BBC Sport website

GB athletes to watch at Paralympic world champs

By Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson
BBC commentator and 11-time Paralympic gold medallist

The IPC World Athletics Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand are going to be a tough test for all athletes and an important mark ahead of the Paralympics in London next year.

Britain's best performance in recent times at this level was back in 2002 in Lille when the team topped the medal table, coming off the back of a very successful Sydney Paralympics.

Going into these championships the 40-strong GB team are well prepared with a mix of experienced medallists (although some still quite young) and up-and-coming younger talent who, with the right support and training, have an amazing opportunity to show what they can do over the next 18 months.

The tough part about these World Championships is in the timing of the event as he whole of the athletics world is used to operating on the northern hemisphere calendar.

Although some of the southern hemisphere athletes may have a slight advantage in that they will have had warmer weather to train in, all athletes will have had to have thought carefully about their training plans.

Also, it is important to remember that it is not just how the athletes peak going in to the Worlds, but how they perform for the rest of the Paralympic qualifying season, when their winter training may have been quite different.

Dave Weir
David Weir was in impressive form in November's New York Marathon

However, it is not all doom and gloom. The conditions in New Zealand are great at this time of year, the competition venue appears good, and the individual nations have known about the timing of this event for long enough in order to prepare their athletes.

But where this could get interesting is that there may be some names that we might not be expecting to see rise to the top of the podium but maintaining it is going to be the challenge.

From the GB team, we may be looking to the usual suspects. The country's top wheelchair racer David Weir is brimming with confidence on the back of a win in last year's New York Marathon and is set to compete in four events - the 800m, 1500m, 5000m and marathon in his T54 category.

It is interesting that one of his main rivals, Kurt Fearnley of Australia, has chosen to only compete in the marathon, but he has come off the back of a long season and must realise he just cannot do it all.

Fellow wheelchair racer Shelly Woods made a major breakthrough on the track last year after a superb Beijing, and is now the world record-holder for her 1500m category.

That should have give her even more confidence to know that she has added a lot of high-end speed to the great strength that she always had.

GB Paralympic discus thrower Dan Greaves
Dan Greaves will be hoping to retain his discus title

In the field events, Stephen Miller, Dan West, and Dan Greaves are all looking to prove themselves along with Bev Jones, the shot and discuss athlete who had some time out from the sport after a tough Beijing and is now back in the team.

There is also an interesting mix of younger talent. For some of the development squad this is also about learning how to travel with the team, live in very different surroundings, and get used to much more protocol around the events, as well as show what they can do.

It's great to see that there appears to be a strong squad of girls on the development squad from a range of backgrounds.

Some names to look out for are wheelchair racersJosie Pearson - who transferred from wheelchair rugby, and is competing in the T52 class - and teenager Jade Jones, who turned 15 whilst at the holding camp, and is in great shape.

For the whole British team this is a big test. It is about setting a marker for what can be expected in 2012.

But, with an initial allocation of places for 2012 on offer here, all of the teams know that performing well will take some of the pressure off for the next 18 months.

I am interested to see how Brazil will perform. Athletics has not traditionally been one of their strongest sports, but with the 2016 Rio Paralympics now only five years away their progress will be fascinating to watch.

It is also going to be interesting to see what the US team can bring to these championships. In the past, many of the US athletes competing at this level have been self-funded, so part of the selection criteria has been based on the ability to pay, although this is changing slowly.

They are always intriguing to watch: just when you think the team is going to struggle, a few athletes pull out some exceptional performances.

It has been a long time since Britain's best performance at a World Championships but it would be good to think that, with all the work and support that the team is able to access now, we could be moving back to those days.

Tanni Grey-Thompson is part of the BBC team in New Zealand. You can follow her on Twitter

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see also
Smyth to miss Paralympic Worlds
14 Dec 10 |  Athletics
Delhi champ targets world stage
30 Nov 10 |  Disability Sport
Weir claims New York Marathon win
07 Nov 10 |  Disability Sport
Miller and Jones in Worlds squad
28 Sep 10 |  Disability Sport
Reid intends to build on record
11 Aug 10 |  Disability Sport
Cup success for Olympic hopefuls
25 May 10 |  Disability Sport
GB athletics coach targets 2016
30 Jul 09 |  Disability Sport
A-Z of Paralympic classification
28 Aug 08 |  Disability Sport

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