August 21, 2012
The greatest British Paralympian of all time, Laureus Academy Member Tanni Grey-Thompson became paralysed at the age of seven. A source of strength, however, come in the form of sport. At the age of 13, she found wheelchair racing as a sport that interested her, but little did she know that she would go on to become an 11 Paralympic Gold medal winner, as well as achieving a host of other sporting accolades.
With the Paralympics taking place on home soil this year, Grey Thompson, although no longer competing, can barely contain her excitement: “As an athlete it would have been just the most amazing thing to compete at that level in my own country,” but she’s sanguine about the opportunity it offers a new generation of athletes. “For young people coming through, to see athletes competing in all the different sports … will give them something to aspire to.”
She is enthusiastic about the current crop of athletes coming through at the 2012 Paralympic Games, citing Dave Weir and Shelley Woods, both British wheelchair racing athletes, as having medal potential, as well as Tatyana McFadden, a Paralympic sprinter from the USA. “I think there will be some surprise medals from perhaps much younger athletes than we would expect to be peaking at the moment,” she says.
Involved in the bid for the Games, Grey-Thompson sees the Paralympics both in terms of an elite sport, “about one person winning and everyone else not,” but also its secondary function, which is “showing what disabled people can do.”
But with the blurring of the line between the Paralympics and Olympics, as new technology and greater understanding level the playing field between disabled and non-disabled athletes, and elite disabled athletes paving the way for less segregation between the two events in the future, does she see a way clear for a combined Games?
“I think we will see the Paralympics maybe decrease in size a little bit as you see more athletes who are able to compete on level terms,” she says, but for the moment, Grey-Thomspson is happy with the situation. “I think Olympics and Paralympics at the moment are great to be separated.” She cites her own sport, wheelchair racing as a case in point: “we would go a lot faster than the runners, so they would not let us in.”
Grey –Thompson remains philosophical about the future of the Paralympics. “I think it is really important for us to look at the future of the Paralympics and what we want it to be.” But, for the moment, she is adamant that this year’s Games are going to be “the best ever.” With the storming success of the Olympics, there’s no reason why the Paralympics Games can’t follow in its footsteps, whether on foot, wheels or blades, it may have more impact than it’s ever had before.