London 2012: Paralympians prepare to feed off crowds as long wait nears end


Not even the unwise words of a team-mate could dampen the enthusiasm of para-cyclist Rik Waddon, as he and other ParalympicsGB stars gave their final press conference before the London 2012 games begin.

Speaking to journalists just two days before the opening ceremony, Waddon said: “I just don’t want it to end. I am just so glad to be part of this generation and compete in London.”

He said London 2012 would be an opportunity for Britain’s Paralympic athletes to “get on the stage and show what we have done” with years of lottery funding.

Ellie Simmonds – one of the stars of Beijing in the pool four years ago, returning with two golds as a 13-year-old – said she was looking forward to walking into the swimming arena and hearing “everyone cheering GB’s name”.

David Clarke, who captains the five-a-side football side, said: “The main thing is that not one of those people in the stadium wants you to fail. They want you to succeed. That’s my drive and determination: to take that energy.”

Wheelchair athlete David Weir, one of the best-known members of the ParalympicsGB team as a six-time winner of the London marathon and winner of two golds in Beijing, tried to convince the room packed full of journalists that it was “just another race to me”.

But in the next breath he talked about how inspired he had been to watch Mo Farah win his two gold medals in the Olympic Stadium on the same track he would be racing on.

He said: “It just inspired me even more to train harder. I couldn’t wait to get on that track and race.”

Will Bayley, ranked two in the world in his table-tennis category, said he remembered the passion for the sport in China four years ago, and hoped the British crowd would replicate it.

He said: “It was raucous. There were 6,000 seats packed every day. I remember going in for the first match, taking my headphones off and thinking I was in the middle of a football stadium with people screaming.

“I hope we can create the same atmosphere here and make it a fortress. It’s going to be absolutely buzzing.”

The positivity of the press conference was dented slightly by reports of comments by para-cyclist Jon-Allan Butterworth in that morning’s Daily Telegraph.

Butterworth, who became disabled while serving with the armed forces in Iraq five years ago, compared his level of commitment to his training with that of the athletics squad, and suggested that some Paralympic sports “just have a laugh”.

He was quoted as saying: “I’m definitely critical of it because I work hard. The para-cycling team won 17 gold medals and three silvers in Beijing from a squad that was only 13-strong.

“Athletics had 30-odd people there and they won two golds, so where’s that money gone? Scrap all their funding, give it to cyclists and we’ll win double the medals we do already.”

The interview, although published this week, was conducted several weeks ago in the build-up to London 2012.

Butterworth apologised almost immediately after the story was published, and said: “I was ill-informed and wasn’t aware how hard the selection process is in athletics.”

Waddon, who shares a room with Butterworth in the athletes’ village, said the comments were “just a mere cloud in the sky that is going to blow over”.

But Peter Eriksson, performance director for the ParalympicsGB athletics team, who was appointed after the Beijing games, was unimpressed with Butterworth’s comments.

He told a press conference: “We saw this article and it was disappointing, saying we were wasting money when we are performing better and better.”

Eriksson said the squad had broken more than 10 world records since the introduction of a new training programme, while Weir said the team had returned from the last athletics world championships in 2011 with 12 gold medals.

Eriksson added: “We all appreciate the cyclists’ hard work. Hopefully they will reach the medal count we will have.”

28 August 2012


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