British medallists hope support continues until Rio
8 months ago
Great Britain’s Paralympic medallists have voiced their hopes that the public support seen during London 2012 will continue for the next four years until the Paralympic Games in Rio.
Many of the 300-strong ParalympicsGB team will celebrate at Sunday night’s Closing Ceremony and at the “Our Greatest Team” Parade through central London on Monday, but they are already thinking about the next step.
“The British public has really embraced us. I hope and I truly believe that we’ve inspired a generation and I think that will continue,” said rower David Smith, who won gold in the GB Coxed Four.
“It’s not just the Games. There are World Championships, European championships, domestic competitions that we all compete in.
“They are throughout the four-year cycle. It’s not just these Games and it would be great if the British public were aware of this and support us.”
Smith, from Aviemore, was one of a group of rowers who went on stage at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday night for the performance of Rule Britannia during the Last Night of the Proms.
The celebrations will end soon, though, as he begins training for the 2013 season, culminating with the World Rowing Championships in South Korea at the end of August, where “adaptive” events take place alongside those for able-bodied athletes.
“We don’t just go away now and hide for four years. We have two weeks holiday then we’re back at it again,” Smith added.
Fifty-four of GB’s medallists in London are aged 22 or under, meaning many of them will expect to have improved by Rio 2016. Among them is wheelchair racer Hannah Cockcroft, who won gold over 100m and 200m.
“Rio 2016 was always the one I was supposed to go to so this has just been a nice little detour,” said the 20 year old from Halifax.
“The countdown is already on. I’ve got two World Championships before then, hopefully the Commonwealth Games, so there’s a lot more to concentrate on.
“I want to keep going forever because this has been the most amazing 10 days of my life, I’ve loved every single second. But I only get a week off training because Rio is now really close and I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Cockcroft will aim to compete at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France, in July, as well as the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, another event that integrates disabled and able-bodied competitors.
Many ParalympicsGB members have yet to step out of the ‘bubble’ created around the Olympic Park and Paralympic Village during the Games.
But Sailing gold medallist Helena Lucas – who comes from Redhill in Surrey but is now based in Southampton – got a chance to experience the depth of public support during a train journey to London to take part in Sunday’s night’s Closing Ceremony.
“The guard mentioned there were a couple of medallists on board, that we had our medals with us and asked whether we could have a quick walk up the train. It was only five carriages but it took us two hours to walk through,” she said.
“It really hit me then what an impact it’s had on the British public. The support they’ve shown us; there’s so much passion out there and they’re so proud of the team.”
Over 100 golden postboxes around the country will record British Paralympic success in athletes’ home towns.
However Table Tennis player Will Bayley – who won Individual silver and Team bronze – has had to make do with a silver postbox, made by friends using tinfoil, near his home in Groombridge, East Sussex.
“I don’t know what the big craze is about the gold ones,” joked the 24 year old.
“I’m really looking forward to 2016. I’ve got a bronze and a silver now and I really want to finish it off with a gold in Rio – that would be brilliant.
“It’s a long road, training six hours a day every day, but if we can beat the Chinese and take it in Rio that would be great.”
Cyclist Sarah Storey, 34, is already Great Britain’s most decorated female Paralympian after winning four golds in London to take her haul to 11 in a 20-year career.
But the former swimmer, who switched sports in 2005, is determined to carry on for four more years, saying: “I’d like to go on to Rio and see these youngsters come through and take the reins.
“Paralympic sport has changed, it’s been embraced by a wider public. People are now starting to say, ‘This is just elite sport, we don’t need to talk about disability, impairment levels, anything like that.’
“We’ve watched sports from Wheelchair Rugby and Basketball, all the way through to Cycling, via the Athletics stadium and the Swimming pool and we’ve just seen elite sport, world record after world record, hard-fought sport all the way through.
“When I first made the team people just saw disability as the thing in front of them, not sport.
“I’m so proud to have been a part of that journey and seen the change. Hopefully we can continue in this vein and create more elite athletes.”
Mancunian Storey was part of the athletes’ parade that followed the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics four years ago, which marked the beginning of the build-up to London 2012.
Looking forward to Monday’s event, she said: “It's going to be incredible to see the red, white and blue lining the streets. When we rode down the Strand last time there were people hanging out of buildings, waving flags and screeching.
“Of course, that was the start to here and now. It's going to be an incredible experience and I just hope the sunshine continues.