Introduction: The multi-sport structure of the Paralympic Games is one of the main elements that differentiate the Paralympics from other major sporting competitions for Para-Equestrian Dressage athletes. Para-Equestrian Dressage made its Paralympic debut in Atlanta in 1996 and as such is a relatively new Paralympic event (de Haan & Winfield, 2008). As equestrian sports require unique venues and facilities, they are often situated varying distances away of the athletics stadium which is often seen as the most iconic Paralympic image and a symbol of the heart of the Games. Beijing and London will be polar opposites in terms of the location of the equestrian events relative to other sports. In 2008 the equestrian team were based in Hong Kong approximately 1225 miles away from the Paralympic Stadium in Beijing, in 2012 the distance between the equestrian venue (Greenwich) and the Paralympic stadium (Stratford) is approximately 6 miles. It is unknown whether these different levels of physical separation affect an athlete’s sense of belonging and inclusion and ultimately their personal ‘Paralympic experience’. \ud \ud Aim: The am of this study was to explore if past experiences would influence future expectations of ‘Paralympic experience’ specifically in relation to the physical separation of equestrian sport at Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. \ud \ud Participants: Five members of the British Para-Equestrian Dressage team were interviewed post selection but prior to going out to Hong Kong. One rider had experienced all previous Paralympic Games starting in Atlanta, one rider had experienced both Sydney and Athens, one rider had only experienced Athens and for two riders Beijing was to be their first Paralympic Games. Both male and female athletes were included, and the age of participants ranged from 21 – 44 years. \ud \ud Methods: Where applicable riders where asked about their previous Paralympic experience and all riders were asked about their expectations of what life would be like for them based in Hong Kong during the 2008 Paralympic Games. All participants voluntarily agreed to participate and the interviews took place at a training centre regularly used by the team. All interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim and validated by the participants. Transcripts were then exposed to content analysis to indentify key themes (Gubrium & Holstein, 2001). \ud \ud Results: All riders regardless of previous Paralympic experience were focussed on the competition itself, the fact that the competition was taking place in Hong Kong rather than Beijing did not concern them. The three riders who had previous Paralympic experience did however discuss the ‘uniqueness of the Paralympic Games’, whilst one of the riders for whom Beijing was his first Paralympics, felt that the Games ‘would be like any other major Para-Equestrian Dressage Competition’ because they ‘would just be with other Para-Equestrian Dressage riders’. All riders expressed a sense of ‘missing out from the main Paralympic experience’ as a result of being in Hong Kong, they all said they were ‘looking forward to spending some time in Beijing and experiencing the closing ceremony’.\ud \ud Conclusion: Paralympics GB is a team made up of teams. A team’s success is measured by medals, but the Paralympic experience goes beyond competition results. Prior to competition the concept of sport separation did not distract the Para-Equestrian Dressage riders from their medal focus. They appeared to be able to separate ‘competition expectations’ from ‘Paralympic experience’. However, it was felt that the ‘Paralympic experience’ would be different in Hong Kong compared to Beijing with a sense of separation during the competition and an anticipated sense of inclusion when in Beijing for the closing ceremony. Faced with a situation of sport separation, it would appear that the opportunity to join the rest of the Paralympic GB team at some point during the Games is fundamental to the separated teams’ sense of inclusion and overall ‘Paralympic experience’
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