2nd February 2017

The Wizard Of The Track Seeks 2017 Glory

2 February 2017 

Since winning Paralympic gold and silver in the T36 400m and 800m respectively last summer, it has been quite a whirlwind for Paul Blake. He has turned on the Christmas lights in his home town of Dorchester, enjoyed a trip to Sri Lanka, was invited to a hospitality box at a Chelsea game, and most significantly of all, received the prestigious honour of an MBE.

So what was it like to receive the phone call saying he was going to be honoured by the Queen in the New Year’s Eve honours list?

“It was really strange; I thought it was a scam when I got the call. I got an email through twitter from the Cabinet Office and I thought ‘hang on, this doesn’t happen every day, this must be a scam’. I rang them and they had been trying to get hold of me. I’ve moved recently so they had obviously sent the letter to my old address so I hadn’t got the message. She told me I had been honoured by the Queen, and I was like ‘excuse me!’ – this doesn’t happen every day.

“It is an amazing honour. It makes all the training and competing worthwhile – it was a nice surprise to end the year on.”

An unassuming and well-respected member of the British team for a number of years, Blake was a popular winner in Rio, charging to his first Paralympic title in the T36 400m on the penultimate morning of action at the Estadio Olimpico in Brazil.

After previously winning Paralympic medals in London four years earlier (T36 400m silver and 800m bronze), the 400m gold completed his impressive set.

“I was obviously very happy to finally get the gold I had always dreamed of throughout my career. I got the silver and bronze in London (2012) so to go one better makes all the hard work worth it – I was ecstatic to get the gold.”

The Bath-based athlete is renowned for his celebrations across the line, and his joy in victory is a constant feature in any round-up montage from Rio – the slow-mo celebration as he looks to his left to finally realise his Paralympic dream, is a mainstay of any highlights reel.

Blake adds: “Every time I see it, I am reminded of what a great moment it was. Equally, it reminds me that I have to keep to that level – I have to keep focused.”

And focus is the operative word. When he hasn’t been providing the civic duty of turning on the festive lights in his home town, Blake has been back to the hard work with his coach Rob Ellchuk as he prepares to add to the seven World Para Athletics Championships medals he already has in his cabinet. He knows it is going to be tougher than ever, particularly with the Australian James Turner, who smashed the field to win gold in the 800m, providing a stern test to the Briton.

“It’s going to be tough – I have James Turner who has come on leaps and bounds so I know I am going to have to up my game. I’m going to have to run at least four or five seconds quicker to try and win the 800m. It’s tough but I’m going really well at the moment.

“I was aware of James coming into Rio and knew he was only a second behind me (on best times) so I was expecting a race but it wasn’t the race I thought it was going to be – he took off! I ran the 400m the day before the 800m and I just had nothing left in my legs. So I will be working a lot on my leg speed and get them stronger so I can put up more of a fight.

“He is relatively new to the Paralympic scene and to have him ahead of me already is amazing in a way because it has given me a boost to keep going and work harder. It will only push our T36 class to newer heights, which is great.”

With the added bonus of returning to the Olympic Stadium – the location of his first two Paralympic medals – for the World Para Athletics Championships, Blake is excited at the prospect of more glory on home soil.

“It will be incredible to go back into that Olympic Stadium and feel that atmosphere of the home crowd again – the Brits know how to support their own athletes. It will be really exciting to be back there; I have good memories of London. I think I’m more excited about being back there and feeling that atmosphere rather than the actual running!”

As an athlete who has ‘been there and got the t-shirt’, what advice would the multiple global medallist give to any athlete competing in front of the home crowd at the Championships this July?

“Purely enjoy it – they are going to be nervous but that is natural. Use those nerves and enjoy the experience.”

And so with it, Blake is off to another training session. His coach does not tell him what it will be until he gets there. That is the element of surprise he has come to expect and a method which has seen him become one of the most successful Paralympians in history.

Follow Paul’s journey on Twitter at @wizards_1