The Paralympic Games in Tokyo was historic in so many ways. There are the obvious permutations of hosting the games a year late and in the middle of a global pandemic – Full credit and respect to everyone that made the games happen, particularly those behind the scenes that worked tirelessly in an almost impossible situation.
It’s fair to say these games were a huge success, the key to that was the host city providing an unbelievable platform; the world media getting behind the games, bringing it to a global audience; and finally, the athletes doing what they do best, performing to incredible levels and achieving feats beyond perceived limits of human capability.
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics continued the upwards trend of the movement in terms of relevance, importance and sheer entertainment.
For me personally, it was difficult to watch a games that I believed I deserved to be a part of. Tokyo was always likely to be my last games in athletics, and not to be given the opportunity to go out on my terms and on the field of play, really hurt. You don’t get everything you deserve though, something I’ve learned through my 25-year career in sport. I will have to deal with my thoughts and emotions, then move on.
However, that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for watching Paralympic GB athletes bring in medal after medal. For Great Britain to finish second in the medal table once again is a monumental effort, given the global diversity of the games, as well as the sheer strength and depth of other countries. It shows that the investment by the Government, the National Lottery and UK Sport in Paralympic sport really delivers. To see how seriously our country takes the Paralympics, combined with the ever incredible coverage from Channel 4, is awe inspiring.
My highlights of the games were the wheelchair rugby team winning Gold for the first time; David Smith fighting the odds to defend his individual Boccia title; and the T64 men’s 100m final, the quickest and closest race in Paralympic history. All were exactly what we want to see from the Paralympics – competitive; unpredictable; exciting. This was sport at it’s finest. Unlike any other sporting event, the Paralympics not only showcases sporting ability and drama, but it also carries such powerful and important narrative on the triumph of the human spirit, overcoming adversity, turning negative into positive, challenging perspectives and maximising potential – it was great to see those messages coming through loud and clear.
For my event, the F32 Club Throw, I must admit that the results were disturbing. For an athlete to break the World Record by 8 metres, which represents an over 20% increase, is alarming. I know that sport naturally progresses over time, but such a big jump is not natural, especially in an event that has been developing and progressing over the last 25-30 years. Even in my case, I took the World Record from 27 metres to 34 metres, but it happened gradually over an eleven-year period and there were always athletes close behind me.
I do worry about the future of the F32 class, it is one of the most vulnerable in the Paralympics and work need to be done to protect it and ensure the most severely impaired athletes with cerebral palsy can compete in Para-athletics. I presently don’t think this is the case.
At Tokyo 2020, I ran to be elected to the IPC Athletes’ Council. I’ve always been passionate about athlete representation, and this seemed a natural progression for me given my work as an athlete rep with British Athletics and World Para Athletics. Sadly, I was unsuccessful and didn’t receive enough votes – Tokyo really wasn’t my games! I will continue in my current roles though and am providing input and feedback to the current IPC Classification Review, which is so important for the future of the Paralympics.
The Paralympics are the pinnacle of disability sport, and for all the successes, there is still much to be done to ensure fair and equal competition, especially for those with high support needs. When I was young, I was told I was too disabled to be competitive in athletics, I hope I helped to disprove that and inspire others like me through my endeavours – I fear future generations may not be as lucky as I’ve been.
Despite my apprehensions, I still love the sport and am grateful for all the opportunities it’s given me. For a skinny, ginger, Geordie kid to compete at 6 Paralympics, win 3 gold medals in a row, hold a World Record for eleven years, then come back from hip replacement surgery and compete for another 9 years, is nuts!
What a ride it’s been. I may have been denied my ending, but the memories will always remain.