On the Scene in Beijing -- 2016 Games Bidders Study Abroad at Beijing Paralympics

(ATR) Bid staff and leaders from Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo all joined the observer program at the Beijing Paralympics. They uniformly praise Beijing's look, transition and operations, but offer their own visions

BEIJING - SEPTEMBER 6:  Flag bearers wave to the crowd during entrance of Athletes in the Opening Ceremony for the 2008 Paralympic Games at the National Stadium on September 6, 2008 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Chien-min Chung/Getty Images)
BEIJING - SEPTEMBER 6: Flag bearers wave to the crowd during entrance of Athletes in the Opening Ceremony for the 2008 Paralympic Games at the National Stadium on September 6, 2008 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Chien-min Chung/Getty Images)

Chicago 2016 chairman Chicago

Chicago 2016 chairman and CEO Pat Ryan accompanied the bid observer team to Beijing, in part to "lend support to the Games."

But beyond that, Chicago aimed to sound out the Paralympic Family about what they want to see in the Games.

An environment of anticipation is one answer, Ryan said, asserting that Chicago is a city excited about both the Olympics and Paralympics. He said the city's private institutions, like the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago plus the work of the Mayor's Office on People with Disabilities, put Chicago at the top of the list of the most accessible U.S. cities.

Ryan's vision also includes a stronger U.S. team.

"We’d be working a lot on getting more athletes classified," he said, adding that the city is already cooperating with the USOC to build parasport participation.

Chicago 2016 VP of Sport and Accessibility Linda Mastandrea undertook a full schedule of observer workshops.

As the program began, she was quickly impressed with Beijing's transition, calling it two Games in one festival.

But as a Paralympian, she studied the Beijing athlete experience and universal design. One item on a bus immediately impressed her: simple blocks provided to immobilize wheelchair wheels – a useful improvement on the time-consuming, awkward straps that usually accompany accessible transport seating. Mastandrea added that she aims to find Beijing's accessibility designers and get their input.

She's also interested in London’s massive regeneration plan for the East End, especially its universal design commitment. "London’s housing stock is going to be transformed," she predicted.

Mastandrea is also optimistic that a Chicago Paralympics would mean more television coverage in the states too, calling it a "home field advantage."

Madrid

Madrid 2016 bid leader Mercedes Coghen came to Beijing to watch the opening ceremony, take in some sports and promote the bid.

Coghen said her overall mission was to find ways to bring a Madrid Paralympics "to life," something that the Beijing opening ceremony accomplished for her.

She had goosebumps, she said, because of the messages in the performances.

"You always have to keep on with your life – that’s the message," she said, referring to a ceremony that included hundreds of performers labeled as disabled.

She's also impressed with Beijing volunteers, but suggests the smaller city of Madrid can still compete.

"We cannot match that in quantity, but we can in quality. I would like them to have the same smile."

Coghen is also looking to see how an organizing committee and volunteers can downshift from the larger job of the Olympics to the smaller Paralympic clientele.

Madrid's observation team included staff from the bid committee and the city. Coghen also came to the Paralympics in the company of a member of the Spanish royal family. The family's support and public efforts on behalf of the bid are a major asset, Coghen acknowledged.

Madrid city counselor Carmen Sanchez Carazo was also one of the observers.

Carazo stated she’s been impressed with the attention to detail and order at the Beijing Games. She's also impressed with the provision of Spanish-speaking volunteers at the airport for one, plus the shockingly clean venues and pavements after major events. No piles of trash, she noted with satisfaction, in a Paralympics blog for a Madrid paper.

Other members of Madrid's observation team included bid managing director Antonio Fernández Arimany and Paralympian and Paralympic sports coordinator Mariano Ruiz.

Rio de Janeiro

The Rio 2016 team had some "expectations" of Beijing after their city's experience hosting the 2007 ParapanAm Games, said bid president Carlos Arthur Nuzman.

"The event [in Beijing] was a success and the seamless integration was praised by athletes and officials. Beijing excelled in accessibility both for athletes and the relevant spectators, something we could see in the sporting venues but also in tourist spots and in the city in general," said Nuzman.

He called the transition from Olympic to Paralympic mode in the city "brilliant."

"This is something we should take in consideration in planning the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio."

Just two days before the Paralympics began, the organizing committee of the 2007 Parapans, a group that shares several key personnel with the 2016 bid committee, presented its final report on the 2007 Parapans to a meeting of the executive committee of the International Paralympic Committee.

Nuzman was not yet talking about any specific inspiration that Rio will import from Beijing, only saying that the details will appear in the Rio bid dossier in February.

Rio 2016 sports director Agberto Guimaraes was among the bid staff and leaders who participated in the official observer program.

Tokyo

The Tokyo team was also impressed with Beijing's transition to the Paralympics, accesible transport, look of the Games and smiling volunteers. And they're planning a transition so smooth as to be imperceptible.

"We’re trying to unite in a huge sport event for 60 days. We don’t separate," said Nagatoshi Nakamura, executive director of the city's bid promotion office.

Nakamura noted that Tokyo is well advanced in accessible transport: busses can lean over or lift in passengers with mobility aids while subways are scheduled to be barrier free by 2016; yet Nakamura said that that is not enough.

"It is necessary to erase any barriers in the mind as well," he stated.

He's confident that Tokyo can recruit enough volunteers too, to match the blue-clad smiling escorts all over the Beijing Games.

Bid chairman and CEO Ichiro Kono led the delegation to Beijing. Joining him were the vice governor of Tokyo plus ten members of the Metropolitan Assembly. Also on the team was Japanese Paralympic Committee chairman Isao Hokugo.

The JPC, said Nakamura, is one of the bid's most important partners in designing the Tokyo Games proposal.

While in Beijing, Tokyo 2016 team members visited a reception held by the organizers of an event that will add to the city's Paralympic resume: the Asian Youth Para Games. This multisport event takes place in Tokyo in September 2009.

"We will strive to create an opportunity for all young Paralympians from around Asia to be able to participate in the Asian Youth Para Games and through this event to strengthen further the Paralympic Movement in our region," said Hokugo. He leads the games organizing committee as well as the JPC.

Just as the Beijing Paralympic Games ended, Tokyo's technical team were reviewing their first-hand findings with colleagues at home, impressed especially with large crowds on the Green and in venues, in Beijing's quick transition to the Paralympics, and smooth operations.

Written by Maggie Lee.