London 2012: Paralympic trio hope for overdue recognition


Three British Paralympians have spoken of their hopes that London 2012 will lead to a greater recognition of their talents, skills and fitness.

Naomi Riches, a five-time adaptive rowing world champion and a Paralympic bronze medallist in Beijing in the mixed coxed four,  says she is desperate for the public to move away from the typical “oh, aren’t they brave” attitude.

The adaptive rowing team now trains alongside the non-disabled team that secured nine Olympic medals, and Riches believes the standards of the two teams are comparable.

She insists that she is looking forward to racing, even though she knows it is going to be “gruelling… painful, really hard work”.

As a partially-sighted member of the quartet, she wears goggles that block out all light, so she has to concentrate on listening to cox Lily van den Broecke – who steers the boat and delivers instructions to the rest of the crew – and attuning herself to the “feel” of the boat.

She says the crowd’s encouragement will sound like a “wall of noise” that will have a “positive effect” on her performance even though she will be concentrating on the cox and the boat, because she will know that “the majority of that crowd are shouting for us”.

She adds: “You have to stay within the rhythm and help the boat move fast and not do anything that will slow it down, and be really attuned to what’s happening beneath your bum and your feet.”

Riches, who has been rowing for eight years and describes herself as “quietly determined”, was talent-spotted at an adaptive rowing awareness day in 2004.

Another Paralympian who wants the members of ParalympicsGB to win better recognition of their talents – as well as medals – at London 2012 is wheelchair fencer David Heaton.

He came out of retirement to compete in the team event at London 2012, in what will be his fifth games, and will be the only member of the seven-strong fencing team to have previous experience of the Paralympics.

He says he will judge whether it has been a successful games by the quantity of media coverage.

“Hopefully, at the end of the games the British public will recognise Paralympic sport as an elite sport and we will get the recognition we deserve,” he says.

“A lot of people will not have seen any disability sport or Paralympic sports before. I am hoping people talk about us and recognise us and hopefully the profile of Paralympic sport grows and grows.”

The aspect of the games he is most looking forward to is the opening ceremony, particularly so he can watch his team-mates – such as 14-year-old Gabi Down, who has spoken of Heaton as something of a mentor to her and other members of the team – as they come out of the tunnel into the Olympic Stadium on the evening of 29 August.

“For everybody else, it will be their first time. I am more excited for them and [looking forward to]watching their faces as we come out, than for myself.”

His first games was Barcelona in 1992, when the Paralympics “stepped up a level”, and he says the opening ceremony “is an experience you never forget”.

Britain’s most successful boccia player, Nigel Murray – with two golds and a silver from three previous games, and currently ranked number one in the world – is another Paralympian hoping for greater recognition of his team-mates’ talents.

“I think it will let people know what people can achieve regardless of their disability,” he says.

Like Riches, he hopes “home advantage” will count. “We want people to get behind all the GB athletes and give us that support and encouragement,” he says.

“Hopefully, it will inspire us to do the best we can do and also intimidate our opponents.

“In Beijing, coming out [into the arena]was deafening and it was a partisan crowd. They played a huge part in those games and hopefully ours can do the same.”

The heats of the mixed coaxed four start at 11.30am on 31 August.

The men’s wheelchair fencing team event takes place on 8 September.

The boccia events take place between 2 September and 8 September.

14 August 2012


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