Four years ago, at the Beijing Paralympics it was Matt Skelhon’s Mohican haircut that drew most of the media attention, despite his gold medal. But this time, at London 2012, he has decided to go “incognito”.
Skelhon, who describes himself as a “perfectionist”, will be competing in three shooting disciplines, but his main goal is to defend the gold medal he won in the R3 10 metres air rifle event.
When asked about the media attention in Beijing, he admits that he was “looking for it”.
“That was part of the idea behind the haircut,” he says. “It was my first games. If I didn’t get recognised for what I did in the shooting, I would get recognised for my haircut.”
The attention-seeking hairstyles lasted “on and off” until the beginning of this year, when he decided to get serious for his home games.
“In competition, I either had a Mohican or a theme on a Mohican. Recently I have been asked what I was going to do [at London 2012]and I thought this time I would just concentrate on my performance and go incognito.”
He has spoken in the past of thriving upon the need to perform at his best that shooting gives him, because of its small margins for error.
Now he is also looking forward to moving into the athletes’ village, “getting into the mindset of the games”, and “getting down and shooting and competing”.
After the games, he says, he will take a few months off to consider his future, but he is likely to aim for a third games in Rio in 2016.
“The sport has enabled me to travel the world and compete in the most elite fields,” he says. “I don’t think it would be something I would want to give up just because I have been to a couple of Paralympic Games.”
Like many of Britain’s Paralympians, he has already been caught up in the government’s welfare reforms and cuts to disability benefits.
He is having his disability living allowance reassessed, and is also prepared for the government to try to force him back to work.
Although he claims incapacity benefit (IB), as a wheelchair-user with a spinal cord injury, he is likely to be drawn into the coalition’s programme of reassessing all those on IB for the new employment and support allowance.
Unlike many IB claimants, he is “not worried about it”. If he loses his entitlement to out-of-work disability benefits, he should instead be able to claim a living costs award from UK Sport.
Because he currently claims IB, he cannot also receive the living costs award – which is set at a similar level to IB – although he does receive UK Sport funding for equipment and training.
He is dismissive of the government’s reassessment process. “[For] people like myself I think it is a waste of money,” he says. “Unless they manage to regrow my spinal cord, I don’t understand why I need to be reassessed.
“There is no difference from the first time I was assessed seven years ago. I will be fine either away. If the government decides I am fit for work, I will take the living costs.”
His only concern is if he does not continue to perform in his sport, which could see his UK Sport award cut, and put him – like hundreds of thousands of other disabled people – at the mercy of the reassessment process.
The shooting events will take place between 30 August and 6 September, with the R3 on 1 September.
7 August 2012