Gabi looks to Ellie for tips on handling teen spotlight


When 14-year-old wheelchair fencer Gabi Down competes at London 2012, she will look for inspiration to the performances of an even younger Paralympian.

Swimmer Ellie Simmonds was the star of the British team in Beijing four years ago, where, aged just 13, she won two gold medals in the pool, becoming the youngest ever Briton to win an individual gold at a Paralympic Games.

Down – who will be competing in the women’s team event – has read articles about Simmonds’ Beijing achievements and has watched her medal-winning races repeatedly in a search for inspiration.

She said: “She is one person I am really looking forward to meeting, just to ask her a few questions about how she dealt with the pressure. She had crazy amounts of media attention.”

Down insists that she doesn’t mind being constantly asked about her age by journalists.

She said: “The fact that I am so young means I can share my story with other young athletes, especially other young athletes with disabilities.

“It shows you no matter how young you are you can still be successful. It definitely shows young kids with disabilities that they can get involved in the sport and can do it competitively and are just as good as the Olympic athletes.”

At the mainstream secondary school she attends in Milton Keynes, she tries to keep her school work and sport separate.

“When I am there at school I am there for a reason, to get an education,” she said. “I don’t want all the conversations to be about fencing.”

But she has talked about her fencing at school assemblies, and believes the sport has made her more confident.

She has also benefited from the support of her school friends, six of whom will be cheering her on at the Paralympics.

Now, she says, she is “really looking forward” to the opening ceremony, the first time that she and her team-mates will get a feeling for the huge crowds expected throughout the games.

She has already experienced something of the atmosphere she can expect, having taken part in this year’s School Games, which included a tour of the Olympic Park.

She said: “Walking out of the tunnel [of the Olympic Stadium], even when there were very few people in there, with just 200 supporters, the noise was still amazing.”

And she is already looking ahead, planning to use the experience gained at London 2012 to push her towards the games in Rio in 2016.

She said: “When I look back on it, what I want to have got out of the games is experience, and that will give me more determination to try even harder for Rio and definitely go to Rio and get a medal.

“I am 14, I have the possibility of going to five more games, so I am definitely looking more to the future.”

The women’s wheelchair fencing team event will take place on 7 September.

1 August 2012

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