2nd September 2014

Team Dunn Good

2 September 2014

The Head Coach of the Paralympic GB & NI squad Paula Dunn was a very happy lady after overseeing the most successful IPC European Championships ever for Great Britain & Northern Ireland. The youthful team collected 52 medals from the championships in Swansea and Dunn was very pleased with the performances across the board.

Dunn, who became head coach in November 2012, was happy to get the chance to send so many juniors to Wales to get a taste of the major competition environment, but admits there were some question marks over how they would react.

“There aren’t too many opportunities to compete at such a high level. Two years out [from the Paralympics] we decided to take a young crop of athletes here to Swansea. We knew this would be a key event for the youngsters. This was a test for those who had the potential to go to Doha for the IPC World Championships in 2015 and Rio 2016, to see if they could deal with this arena and level of competition. The ones we wanted to step up did step up.”

It is an encouraging result for Dunn after a build-up where some of the medal favourites had to pull out with injury or had their events removed from the programme due to a lack of athletes entered.

“They’ve done really well. We weren’t sure how the team were going to perform. We lost David Weir and Libby Clegg this week in the build-up. Also, we lost Hollie Arnold, the world champion from Lyon last year and Hollie Neill because their events got cancelled. However, a lot of the youngsters have stepped up and done well which is a positive.”

Many of the youngsters delivered on the big occasion with the likes of Sammi Kinghorn (T53 100, 400m, 800m gold medallist), Erin McBride (T13 100m gold medallist), Mo Jomni (T53 400m gold, 800m bronze), Isaac Towers (T34 800m silver, 400m bronze), and Jade Jones (T54 800m silver, 5000m bronze)  all winning medals at their debut senior championships. The youngest member of the squad, Maria Lyle (T35 100m and 200m gold medallist), became one of the stars of the championships overnight as she secured double gold at the age of 14. Paula Dunn admits she was impressed with how the teenager dealt with the spectacle of the European Championships.

“I was exceptionally nervous before her race but she’s a good athlete. We’ve known about Maria for two years. She’s been to the Loughborough International; we’ve tried to give her experience here. It was just to know how she would react to wearing the GB & NI vest but she stepped up to the plate and delivered. With time, she is only going to keep developing.”

Lyle is one of many young athletes getting involved with para-athletics and Dunn puts this improvement in numbers down to the system which has transformed since 2009.

“When I started in 2009 we had very few development athletes. We have a lot of programmes in place now to get them into the system. We are really fortunate to have an integrated coaching system so athletes can go out to clubs and bring them into the system. We are still getting the bounce after the Paralympics and there is still a lot of interest. The messages are getting out there so the athletes we might not have got a couple of years ago are now coming to us.”

Of course it’s not all about athletes making their debuts in the British vest in Swansea. Experienced athletes such as Dan Greaves (F44 discus gold medallist) and Aled Davies (F42 shot put and discus gold medallist) contributed to the gold medal tally and wowed the crowd on the Welsh coast. Experience laid behind the choice of captain for the team which Dunn gave to Libby Clegg’s guide runner, Mikail Huggins.

“I can’t take all the credit; it was me and Alex, the media officer who came up with the idea.

“It was originally going to be David Weir, so when he pulled out we were left with a big hole. I then called a team meeting and we decided that there is one athlete who makes an effort with every athlete who comes in, and that’s Mikail.

“It’s never been done before (appointing a guide runner as captain) but he’s an integral part of the team – Libby can’t perform without him so they are a true partnership. Plus, he does have all the characteristics to be a good leader. So many people who have come up to me and said this was the best decision ever.”

Dunn isn’t planning on becoming complacent ahead of the world championships next year or the Paralympics in Rio in 2016 but feels that the team is in a good position to achieve success and attract new athletes to the sport at the same time. 

“The profile is good now – it is on TV and young athletes can see their role models such as Hannah Cockcroft and Jonnie Peacock. It’s opened the floodgates now and people realise it is a professional sport. We are doing well now but we never rest on our laurels. We have to work hard to get even more youngsters into the sport