With the naming of Commonwealth Games squads well and truly underway, the selection of Elite Athletes with a Disability (EAD) to take part in the fully-integrated program at Melbourne 2006 is also taking shape.
Two hundred EAD competitors will go for gold in 12 events across four different sports - Aquatics, Athletics (Track and Field), Table Tennis and Powerlifting - and the medals won will be counted in the overall total for the Games.
Unlike the Paralympics, which are held in the weeks following the Olympics, the EAD program at the Commonwealth Games is fully integrated, meaning swimmers will take to the pool in the same session as Ian Thorpe, or to the track on the same night as Asafa Powell.
Among the athletes already named, England’s Matt Walker, who took home a gold and two silvers in Athens, will be tough to beat in the pool, while Welsh duo Glen Puxley and Gideon Griffiths are expected to make a strong showing in the men’s Powerlifting.
In the women’s competition, Canadian Olympic gold medallist Chantal Petitclerc will be a strong medal chance in the 800m EAD Athletics event, while Australians Joy Boyd, Catherine Morrow and Jane Wallis will be looking for gold in the women’s EAD Table Tennis.
The Australian EAD Swimming team heads to next month’s Commonwealth Games Swimming trials off the back of a very successful and record-breaking meet at the USA Open Paralympic Championships in Minnesota.
And the National Paralympic Committee of Kenya has named 27 athletes for their Games squad, with sprints stars Andrew Adimo, John Lodomo and wheelchair expert Anne Wafula - who represented Kenya at the 2004 Olympics Games in Athens - among regulars named in the team.
Each sport is divided into various classifications according to type and severity of disability. In track and field, there is a men's 100m event for visually impaired athletes and those with cerebral palsy, a men's 200m for amputees, a women's 100m for athletes with cerebral palsy, a women's 800m Wheelchair event, men's Seated Discus and Women's Seated Shot Put.
There is also a Table Tennis gold medal up for grabs in the Wheelchair Women's Singles category and a Men's Powerlifting gold. The Swimming disability classifications have not been finalised, but at the Manchester Games swimmers were classified according to their ability rather than their disability and all classes swam together.
Results were based on comparison with each event's world-records, so the person who touched the end of the pool first was not necessarily the gold medallist.
The Federal Government is using the inclusion of EAD events in Melbourne to boost a number of programs aimed at encouraging Elite Athletes with a Disability in Australia and throughout the Commonwealth.
The fully-integrated EAD program at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games kicks off in the pool at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatics Centre on 17 March, and will run across the whole Games period, wrapping up with the women’s EAD Table Tennis gold medal match at the same venue on 26 March.