COMMENT: Putting their bodies on the line for precious metal


If it didn’t quite match Team GB’s Super Saturday in terms of precious metal, the third day of competition demonstrated what Britain’s Paralympians will put their bodies through for a chance to win a medal.

Perhaps most striking was powerlifter Jason Irving who was competing in his third Paralympics, and described the measures he was forced to take to compete at London 2012.

In the end, he finished eighth, but that’s hardly surprising in the circumstances. “I had both hips replaced to allow me to continue with my sport,” he said, “so I’ve had to get over the surgery and learn how to train again and manage my abilities differently.”

Now he hopes to compete in the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the Rio Paralympics in 2016.

And then there was a tearful Anthony Stephens, who appeared to have stretched his physical – and emotional – reserves to the limit after coming fourth in the 200m freestyle.

He spoke afterwards of the brutal physical punishment the last 12 years of training have had on his body, and said he was also coping with elbow and shoulder injuries in the only limb he has “that is 100 per cent”.

“12 years of training puts a strain on your body,” he said. “That’s what the injury is and that’s what I’ve been trying to cope with.”

He now has several days’ rest before his next event. “I’ll get some treatment on my arm the next few days,” he said, “and see if I can hold together until the end.”

I asked how he had felt during the race. “It hurt. I weigh 56kg or so and trying to shift that off the starting block with my arm that’s in pieces already… It hurt from the buzzer, it hurt getting off from the blocks.”

The ParalympicsGB team won five golds and 16 medals in all yesterday (Saturday), easily the most successful day of the games so far.

Among them was gold in the 400m freestyle for Ellie Simmonds, who also took more than five seconds off the world record, to defend the first of her two Beijing titles.

Asked afterwards what she had been feeling as she finished the race, she said: “Every emotion possible really, apart from the sad emotions.”

She added: “I drove in [to the Aquatics Centre]and saw that ‘Take the Stage’ advert and that really inspired me, and it made me think, ‘Oh, I want to take the stage, I want to do it for my country and for all the people that have supported me leading in to the games.”

There was also a gold and a world record for Richard Whitehead in the 200m on the Olympic Stadium athletics track, while Sarah Storey claimed her second gold in the cycling Velodrome, this time in the 500m time trial, hours after her non-disabled husband Barney had piloted Neil Fachie to gold in the 1km time trial.

The fifth gold went to Natasha Baker, who broke the Paralympic dressage record in her class to win individual championship gold at her first Paralympic Games.

Earlier this summer, she had told Disability News Service that her hope for the Paralympics was that spectators and viewers would “see disabled people pushing themselves to the limits”, just as they saw non-disabled athletes pushing themselves to their limits during the Olympics.

Already a favourite with the equestrian-loving public, she said the victory “means absolutely everything”.

“From the age of 10 I said I’d come to a Paralympic Games and win a gold medal,” she said, “and to come to my first games and win a gold medal, I just never expected that in a million years.

“It is the most amazing feeling ever. My heart was going at a thousand beats a minute. I screamed ‘wow’ and kept screaming ‘wow’. I couldn’t have asked for any better.”

2 September 2012