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UK Athletics

The Paralympic Challenge

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Ben Rushgrove receives his medal
Rushgrove - one of many youngsters medalling at the Paralympic Games



06 October 2008



Column by Dame Tanni Grey Thompson as featured in Athletics Weekly magazine



In recent weeks the Paralympic Games and the headlines surrounding the appointment of Charles Van Commenee as Head Coach of UKA have continued to keep athletics in the spotlight.


Charles’ appointment comes at a time when systems and processes are in good order but that something extra is needed to give us the final few percent in the pursuit of medals – and this is the case across both Olympic and Paralympic athletes.


There are changes in the Paralympic athletics arena too, as we move away from a Performance Director lead for the entire sport, a Head Coach will also be appointed to oversee our disabled athletes.  The combination of the specialised knowledge required, coupled with the sheer amount of athletes means that this is a very positive way forward.


For the new Head Coach of disability athletics - due to be appointed soon - an interesting performance landscape lies ahead.


Our Paralympic athletes have had a tough Games – eighteenth on the athletics medal table with just two gold (both from David Weir) – which proves that the challenge at this level is ever growing, and the quality and standard of competition out there on the world stage is the highest ever.


Beijing provided a wonderful arena for athletics, with 54 countries being represented on the medal podium, which shows the depth of competition that the team faced.  The Chinese team were always going to be dominant as their upward performance curve showed, and there is plenty more to come from them.


All of the above have been known for a long time and our performance athletes, staff and support knew they were about to face the biggest competitive challenge of their careers.


And although we equalled the number of medals won in Athens, all involved will want to ensure that the London 2012 Paralympic Games see an increase in medal count and colour.


Like every Games, there is always an element of luck – good or bad - that can play a part in your overall performance. Losing a world-class athlete and ambassador such as 800m man Danny Crates would be a blow to any team – but I am pleased he has said it is not the end of the line for his athletics career. Likewise the loss of Ben Rushgrove half way through the games before his favoured event was another potential medal lost.


It is pleasing to note however that the team was a young squad of athletes, with an average age of 23 years and more than half making their Paralympic debut. This bodes well for future Games when you consider we had several teenage medallists such as Libby Clegg, Ian Jones, and Mickey Bushell.


However to ensure we do not fall behind the rest of the world we will not only have to make sure that our medal opportunities are converted, but that we also increase the rate of the talent conveyor belt sending people to elite Paralympic level.


For the new Head Coach, a fascinating challenge lies ahead, but one we simply must address to ensure that our athletes are major contributors to the London 2012 medal count.