Craig Spence: My top five moments of 2016

The IPC’s Director of Media and Communications looks back at his favourite moments from an exhausting and exhilarating 2016.

Spain's Juan Jose Mendez Fernandez competes in the men's 3km C1 Individual Pursuit Qualifying at the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Spain's Juan Jose Mendez Fernandez competes in the men's 3km C1 Individual Pursuit Qualifying at the Rio 2016 Paralympics. © • Getty Images

In the six years I have been at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), I can easily say that 2016 was like no other.

It had absolutely everything, too many to list, and brought with it nearly every emotion you could possibly experience.

Here are my Top Five moments from a year I will certainly never forget.

1. The Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony

Although the Opening Ceremony was the best I’ve witnessed, it’s my favourite moment of 2016 because it came very close to not even happening!

Just weeks before the Games, the IPC was informed by the Rio 2016 Organising Committee that they effectively had insufficient funds to organise the Paralympics.

In light of such a crisis, the IPC went public with the issues faced and the whole Paralympic Movement united to overcome one of the biggest problems in our history.

We did what Paralympians do best; we saw a major challenge as an opportunity to do something differently.

Behind the scenes, the IPC President Sir Philip Craven, Vice President Andrew Parsons and the IPC Chief Executive Officer Xavier Gonzalez produced a herculean effort to secure the necessary funds for the Games to go ahead. With a few late changes and a “can do” attitude from all involved, the Games took place and were a tremendous success.

When Brazilian swimmer Clodoaldo Silva lit the Paralympic cauldron in torrential rain in the iconic Maracanã Stadium, there was a collective sigh of relief from all of us within the Paralympic Movement. The Games were on!

2. Super Saturday at Rio 2016

By mid-August, a worryingly low 200,000 tickets had been sold for the Rio 2016 Paralympics. We all had massive fears that the world’s best Paralympians would be performing in front of empty venues and that the Paralympic Movement would take a massive reputational hit.

Following our public plea on 19 August for the Cariocas – the people of Rio – to get behind the Brazilian team and support the Games, ticket sales rocketed.

The first Saturday of the Games (10 September) will always stand-out for me as a record 170,000 people, more than at any stages during the Olympics, filled the Barra Olympic Park.

Driving in to work that morning I recall seeing thousands of people streaming down from the BRT station into the Park like ants. That night I didn’t watch any sport. I just walked around the Park soaking up the amazing carnival atmosphere the Cariocas were creating.

One of the most amusing scenes was seeing about 250 empty pushchairs parked up outside one of the venues; the Paralympics were for all the family and it was outstanding to see whole generations of families embracing and enjoying the Games.

Eventually we sold 2.15 million tickets, second only to London 2012.

3. Channel 4’s TV commercial

The most amazing 180 seconds of the year which caused me and my colleagues to sing "Yes I can" for months. To make a commercial that was even better than the London 2012 masterpiece was always going to be a difficult task, but the British broadcaster delivered in spectacular style.

Although I saw the storyboards for the advert in 2015, I was totally blown away when I saw the final cut. Sat with my boss Xavier Gonzalez to see the final version, both of us were totally speechless as a few tears filled our eyes.

Channel 4 deserves every accolade they have won for the “We’re the Superhumans” campaign and coverage of the Paralympics. They continually raise the bar and I am counting down the days until their Tokyo 2020 offering – no pressure!

Watch the commercial here.

4. Marcel Hug wins his first Paralympic gold

Working for the IPC it can be difficult to remain neutral when watching the sporting action; I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to sit on my hands or bite my tongue when a British athlete has won a medal.

But at Rio 2016, I was delighted that Switzerland’s Marcel Hug finally won his first Paralympic gold.

Marcel is one of the nicest and friendliest athletes on the circuit yet despite being one of the leading racers in the T54 class for a generation now, he had somehow never won Paralympic gold.

After taking silver in the 1,500m and 5,000m in Rio, his involvement in the 800m final was his 19th attempt at winning the elusive Paralympic gold.

He left nothing to chance in the final, leading throughout, and as he crossed the finish line in first place I let out a small cheer from my office in the Main Press Centre in the Olympic Park.

By winning gold in the marathon days later, the Swiss Silver Bullet cemented his place in history as one of the best T54 wheelchair racers of all-time.

Read more about Marcel Hug winning gold here.

5. Winning two major awards

An amazing and unforgettable year was topped off nicely in early December when the IPC Media and Communications team won two major awards at the prestigious European Excellence Awards in PR and Communications in Berlin, Germany.

Up against some of the biggest companies and PR agencies in the world, we were awarded best in-house team of the year and I was fortunate enough to win PR Professional of the Year.

Big thanks must go to all of the team who have been heroic this year in what they’ve had to deal with and the work they have produced.

What started out as a team of two in late 2010 is now a group of 10 of the hardest working and most talented professionals you will ever wish to meet. We are eternally grateful to the support of an outstanding cast of volunteers and interns from around the world who regularly contribute content to us which we then share with the public.

We quite simply love our jobs and have a lot of fun doing what we do. Working with Paralympians is almost like a hobby rather than a job, and although we have achieved a lot in a short space of time, we know very well that there is much more for us to do in raising the profile of Para athletes and Para sport around the world. We cannot wait to get started again in 2017 for what promises to be another very busy year.

Many thanks to all the world's media for all your support during 2016. Without your support this year, I'm not sure we would have delivered what we did.

Craig Spence

IPC Director of Media and Communications

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The IPC's Director of Media and Communications Craig Spence. The IPC's Director of Media and Communications Craig Spence. © • Getty Images