Forward to the Games
In Britain, since the ban was lifted, governing bodies for each sport have taken on responsibility for their ID Paralympic hopefuls. In table tennis and swimming, athlete funding didn’t switch on overnight, but support was there. However, in athletics there is an overshadowing criticism that support from UK Athletics remains absent.
Paul Burns, who coaches athletes with a learning disability up to Paralympic level, explains that British athletes with a learning disability were not invited to the IPC European Championships in Holland. “If you’re not getting the chance to run against the best in the world on a regular basis, then what chance have you got to run against them once?” he asks.
Burns also says that, since the ban was lifted in 2009, no athlete with a learning disability has been invited to a UK Athletics training day for elite athletes. He maintains that British athletes are at a disadvantage because of
the way that funding is distributed to medal contenders through UK Sport. “At the moment, they’re giving us next to no support for learning disability athletes,” he says.
Going for gold
Whether or not the Paralympic GB athletes are in strong contention for medal-winning opportunities is dependent on who you speak with. Some assert that the funding structure in Britain has damaged the team’s hopes.
Others suggest that the ongoing support of third-party organisations throughout the ban will lift the team’s chances. “I think we’re in a very strong position,” says Tracey McCillen. “As British sportsmen and women, a number of them have already demonstrated their ability at international level. I think the Paralympics will bring out every ounce of ambition that each of those athletes has.”
The medal contender: Dan Pepper
Competing in the 200m freestyle and the 100m breaststroke, swimmer Dan Pepper is hoping for a podium place at the Paralympic Games.
It felt great to qualify,” explains Dan, 23, from Poynton in Cheshire. “It’s a surreal feeling – you’re going to the biggest competition in the world, racing the best people in the world. There’s 0.6 seconds separating the top eight on 200m freestyle, so it could go any way. I just race as hard and as fast as I can and see where I end up. I qualified for Athens, but wasn’t allowed to go, so it’s good to be able to go to my home Games. My family and mates have got tickets – as great as it is having thousands of people watching you, you’ve got to block all that out and just pretend it’s you in the pool. I always listen to a Linkin Park song before I race, to get me going.
The volunteer: Tim Branson
Tim, who has a learning disability, has been selected as a Games Maker volunteer for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. During the Paralympic Games, Tim will set up podiums for the shooting events.
I was really honoured when I found out I’d been selected,” says Tim, 44, from Bedford. “I wanted to volunteer mainly for the experience and also in memory of my late dad – I know he’d be proud of me. I wanted to prove that just because we have a learning disability, it doesn’t mean we can’t do anything we want.
The torchbearer: Jamie Graham
On 29 August, 21-year-old Jamie will carry the Paralympic torch in Bushey, as it enters the 24-hour relay between Stoke Mandeville and the Olympic Park. Jamie, who has a learning disability, was nominated for his commitment to his local athletics club, including coaching younger athletes.
I’m so excited and very, very proud to be carrying the Paralympic torch,” says Jamie. “I have been an athlete since I was seven years old and it was my dream to take part in the Paralympic Games. When I found out they were in London I wanted it even more. But carrying the torch is the next best thing. I’m looking forward to it, especially running through the streets with the flame and my friends seeing me on TV.