21 Jan 2011

Paralympic champs open in Christchurch

6:48 pm on 21 January 2011

Athletes from around the world have descended on Christchurch for what is one of the biggest sporting events New Zealand has hosted since the 1974 Commonwealth Games.

The opening ceremony of the IPC Athletics World Championships was held in Cathedral Square on Friday.

The event is the second largest for athletes with a disability after the Paralympic Games and the first time it has been held outside Europe.

Some 1055 competitors from 70 countries taking part, including a nine-strong team representing New Zealand. It is the last major competition before the Paralympic Games in London next year.

Prime Minister John Key is patron of the championships and opened the games to an audience of thousands of competitors, team officials and supporters.

American runner Blake Leeper is one of the favourites to take home a gold medal in the 100m sprint.

The 21-year-old double amputee is up against world No 1 South African Oscar Pistorius, otherwise known as the blade runner, or the fastest man on no legs.

Competition begins at QEII park on Saturday and ends on 30 January.