From Ashurst to the Paralympics

Not much could have tempted Chris Holmes away from his legal career, except the chance to play a key part in the London 2012 organising effort.

In 2009 Holmes left his job as a pensions lawyer at Ashurst to become director of ­Paralympic integration for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog).

Now, with tickets finally on sale for the Paralympics, Holmes is confident London can deliver the best-ever games.

Holmes’s legal skills have been crucial for his “extraordinary” job taking the lead on all things ­Paralympic for Locog. For the first time the organising committee of the Olympic Games is also ­managing the Paralympics – ­previously, the two events have been managed separately. Holmes, who was involved in the London 2012 bid, says this was the ­intention right from the start.

“It has to be that way – it’s the most effective way to do it,” he comments.

Holmes’s involvement in ­Paralympic sport goes back to Seoul 1988. As a child he took part in a range of sports including rugby, cricket and swimming. But aged just 14 he woke up one ­morning to discover that he had lost his sight. “Sport was the thing that pulled me through,” he says.

In particular, he took increasingly to the water, having ­previously been a “decent county swimmer”.

Holmes joined the City of ­Birmingham Swimming Club which, despite training in a ­Victorian 25-yard pool, contributed five swimmers to the Seoul Olympics and four to the Paralympics.

Holmes was one of them, picking up silver medals in the men’s 100m and 50m freestyle events and a bronze in the 400m freestyle in the B2 category for visually impaired athletes, aged just 16.

He describes the experience as “extraordinary” – a word Holmes repeats often – saying stadia were packed with fans who had chosen to support visiting countries.
“When I came back from Seoul I truly believed that no other Games would be able to surpass what had been achieved there,” he says.

However, Barcelona 1992, where Holmes won six golds and a silver, proved him wrong. Apart from the uniqueness of the achievement, still never bettered by a British Paralympian, the atmosphere of the sun-drenched poolside beat even the enthusiasm of Seoul.

“What Barcelona delivered on was making itself the city of the Games,” Holmes says.

It is this sense of community, and encouraging as many people as possible to get involved with the Paralympics, that Holmes is most passionate about.

“It won’t just happen, but we have the opportunity to put on the greatest Paralympics ever,” he says. “There are so many ways to ­measure success, but one I’ll always hold close is that I want to be able to stand up in the autumn of 2012 and say we were able to deliver on our promise to make this everybody’s Paralympic Games – a ­Paralympic Games for the whole of Great Britain.”

In particular, Holmes wants the spectators to reflect the diversity of the British Paralympic team, drawn from every part of the ­country. He says the Paralympics allows supporters to get closer to the action and experience truly world-class sport.

Holmes’s legal skills have been an asset throughout the organising process. He began the process of becoming a lawyer while still a member of the British swimming team, but once he had begun his training contract at Ashurst ­swimming gave way to law.

He is full of praise for the firm’s attitude towards athletes, and says the “collegiate” atmosphere suited him well. Holmes qualified into the pensions team and thinks he would still be there had the ­Paralympics opportunity not ­arisen.

“It had to be something of that sort of significance to entice me away,” he admits.

However, the law has come in handy, providing the skills needed to work on issues such as the mammoth sponsorship and broadcasting contracts negotiated for the Paralympics.

“The key is the real strength of the commercial acumen that you’re able to develop at a City practice,” Holmes says.

The years of dedicated swimming training, with its early starts and rigorous discipline, also play their part.

“Fundamentally you’ve got to be prepared to work really hard, you’ve got to have that culture,” he says. “Legal training is a fortunate thing to have. It does continually open doors for you.”

At the moment Holmes is not sure what the post-Games world will bring. His attention is fixed on ensuring that the London ­venues are filled with “excited, educated, roaring British fans cheering on British success”.

If his only regret remains that he is unable to compete in the recently-completed “phenomenal” aquatics centre, then he and his team will have delivered on their promises.