Two of Britain’s leading Paralympic athletes were forced to pull out of the world championships wheelchair marathon because the organisers had failed to close the course to traffic.
David Weir – who had already won three gold medals during the IPC Athletics World Championships – and fellow British athlete Shelly Woods withdrew on the morning of last weekend’s road race in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The rules of the governing body – the International Association of Athletics Federations – state that all roads have to be completely closed to traffic for such races.
UK Athletics, the governing body for athletics in the UK, said it would write to the IPC [International Paralympic Committee] to “reiterate” its concerns about the incident.
Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who was in New Zealand working for the BBC, backed their decision to pull out, telling her followers on Twitter that she agreed with Weir that it was “too big a risk” to race on open roads and that there was “nothing clever about putting yourself in danger”.
Peter Eriksson, the British team leader, said the team “fully support” the decision to withdraw from the race “although obviously the athletes and UK Athletics as a whole are disappointed that they can’t show what great form they’re in”.
He said: “Safety, however, is paramount, and with less than 600 days to go to the London 2012 Paralympic Games this presents a danger we are not prepared to take.”
The world championships were the last major event before the 2012 Paralympics.
In the medals table, Britain came third behind China (21 golds) and Russia (18 golds), and the British haul of 38 medals (12 golds, nine silver and 17 bronze) was second only to China, which finished with 58, with Russia on 35.
Eriksson said it was a huge improvement on the Beijing Paralympics, in which the British team finished 18th in track and field.
He said: “Overall we’re starting to see the gradual transition to a much more professional squad with a fantastic team spirit and it’s paid off; I’m confident that our success will now continue through to London.”
Meanwhile, the German mobility technology company Otto Bock has become the second Paralympic-only sponsor – after Sainsbury’s – for the London 2012 games.
Otto Bock will provide repairs during the games to Paralympic athletes with prostheses (limb replacements), orthoses (limb supports) and wheelchairs.