A shot at Olympic Park glory is the goal for over 600 disabled young people from across the capital as the 2016 London Panathlon semi-finals kick off this week.
Teams of Panathletes from all 32 London boroughs will go head-to-head in four regional semi-finals of both the Champions and Plate competitions this month, with the winners progressing to the London finals at the Copper Box Arena in June.
The action gets underway tomorrow (Tuesday 2nd March) at Sobell Leisure Centre in Islington when Hammersmith & Fulham will seek to defend their north London title, which they won for the first time last year.
Trying to stop them will be Enfield, Haringey and reigning London Plate winners Brent – one of three teams spurred on by their appearance in last year’s London Plate final to qualify for the Champions half of the draw this time around.
All four semi-final dates will see Champions and Plate competitions running side-by-side, with teams from Barnet, Camden, Harrow and Westminster completing the north London line-up in the Plate final.
Reigning London champions Croydon will aim to take another step towards retaining their crown in Crystal Palace the following day (Wednesday 3rd March) as the National Sports Centre hosts the South London finals.
The record four-time champions will have to be at their best, however, as standing in their way are rivals and two-time London champions Bromley – who they lost to at the same stage in 2014 – along with Greenwich and a Lewisham side who have made huge strides since finishing fourth in last year’s South London Plate final.
Last year’s Plate winners, Kensington & Chelsea, will be looking to retain their South London crown and return to the Copper Box, although Bexley, Lambeth and Southwark with have other ideas as they strive to reach the Olympic Park final for the first time.
With half the London finals line-up decided this week, we’ll then pause for breath before the action returns on Friday 18th March, with the East London finals at the University of East London (UEL) Sportsdock.
Barking & Dagenham remain the team to beat in East London following their second place finish at the Copper Box final last year and a near clean-sweep in their first round heat this season, scoring 58 out of a possible 60 points.
They will have their work out, however, as they try to overcome a strong Hackney team, 2014 London Plate winners Redbridge and 2011 London Champions Newham, who are back in the top competition after their second-place finish in last year’s London Plate final.
A keenly-fought Plate final is also in store at UEL Sportsdock as Havering, Islington, Waltham Forest and Tower Hamlets all seek to make it to the Copper Box final for the first time.
Completing the Olympic Park line-up will be the winners of the West London finals, which take place at St Mary’s University in Twickenham on Monday 21st March.
Battling it out in the Champions final will be a Merton team who impressed in qualifying, along with Richmond and Hillingdon – who fought a close contest in their heat – plus Wandsworth, who have built on their 2015 Plate success, overcoming 2015 West London Champions Sutton in their heat.
Sutton will now contest the final place in the Copper Box line-up with Ealing, Hounslow and Kingston in the West London Plate final.
So we have four very exciting dates in store, with up to 700 Panathletes set to be giving it their all for the chance to compete at a the state-of-the-art Copper Box Arena.
This is the third year that Panathlon has held its showpiece final in the Olympic Park venue, but the first time it has done so in a Paralympic year, which will no doubt help inspire all of our competitors as they aim for glory.
Despite a recent survey finding that increased media coverage of Paralympic sport since London 2012 has not translated into greater access to sport and exercise for many disabled people, Panathlon continues to grow and will reach 30 counties by the end of 2016, along with all 32 London boroughs.
More than 2,000 disabled youngsters will be involved in Panathlon events in London this year, across our multi-sport, football, swimming, boccia, Primary Panathlon and impairment-specific programmes.
Good luck to all of our London semi-finalists on what promise to be four fantastic days of competitive sporting action. As always, we’ll be reporting on all the drama, results and reaction right here, plus you can also follow updates on our Twitter and Facebook pages.