For These Paralympians, a Pursuit of Excellence Means Life Abroad Denmark’s men’s wheelchair basketball team to open European Games in Russia

Danes with a disability By Andrew Matthews DANBELMPIA

This month, Denmark will host its second European Games – a fortnight-long competition in Danske Park, already known as the Para European Games for its elite competitors with disabilities.

Many more visitors will see the magnificent facilities during the October and November competition: an 11km track for the wheelchair racers, the most north-east OrientExpress train service on the continent, and a museum that will feature replicas of an ancient palace, Edvard Grieg’s bridge in Copenhagen, and the city’s red bridge over the River Esplanade.

The Games will include a parade, closing ceremony and the awarding of 71 medals to new champions in 24 sports. The schedule is flexible; a variation in medal days allows participants the opportunity to have an extended training period between the selection trials, the Games, and the international athletics and shooting events of the summer.

Thousands of athletes from 21 countries will compete, but out of just 200 male and female athletes with a disability from seven countries that qualify, only eight have been selected to represent Denmark.

“The main opportunity is for gold, silver and bronze,” says the athletics team manager Morten Leth, as he launches into his audition for the Games squad, which comprises 29 athletes in the 29 different sports that will feature in the games.

At short, sharp individual level, mental and psychological strength will be crucial to achieving success; for the team, their strength of character will have a key role.

“In disability sport, we have to put ourselves in other people’s shoes,” says Leth. “Also, we have to try to find ways to cope with the limitations.”

At the 10th European Games in Baden-Baden, Germany in 2011, the Danish team — with eight athletes each in the basketball and the football, and two in swimming — scored 54 gold, 29 silver and 25 bronze medals.

Exhibition Centre curator Christer Lennebregt worries that athletes will be tempted to use the games as a cover up for injury, complaining that there will be only six days to prepare for events. After one-and-a-half years of training, he is angry that only four days are available.

Lennebregt has spent four years renovating the hall, and the centre is hugely popular, but his excitement now wanes as he realises that he has less time than he thought. He is determined to host a better show and to promote the achievements of disabled athletes.

“Some people are disappointed because they really wanted to get an early start,” he says. “We wanted to do this a year ago, but it took four years to get the money.”

– Denmark will host its second European Games from 4-14 October.

Andrew Matthews travelled as a guest of the Danske Park Hotel.

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