One of Britain’s hottest prospects for Paralympic gold on the athletics track has spoken of her hopes that London 2012 will lead to more opportunities for disabled people outside the sporting arena.
Libby Clegg is hoping to repeat her success in the T12 100 metres and 200 metres at last month’s European championships, where she won two golds and posted personal bests in both events.
She was one of the 49-strong athletics team announced by ParalympicsGB this week, the final sports squad to be chosen, taking Britain’s total team size to 288, its biggest ever for a Paralympics.
The team is packed with gold medal prospects, including David Weir, who won Britain’s only two athletics golds in Beijing and will be competing in the T54 800, 1,500, 5,000 metres, and the marathon; Shelly Woods, in the same four T54 events for women; and Stephen Miller, already the winner of three Paralympic golds in the F32 club throw.
Other serious gold medal chances include world record holders such as Hannah Cockroft, T34 world champion in the 100 and 200 metres, and Paul Blake, who holds the world record in the T36 1,500m and is world 400 metres champion.
Clegg, who won a silver medal in Beijing four years ago, told Disability News Service (DNS) that she was totally focused on preparing for London 2012, with athletics the centre of her life.
So although – like disabled athletes such as Tanni Grey-Thompson before her – she will wait until after her athletics career to turn her attention to campaigning for better access and opportunities for disabled people, she still hopes that London 2012 will convince those watching the games that “disability is nothing to be ashamed of”.
She confesses that when she was diagnosed with her visual impairment at the age of nine and was told she was “disabled” for the first time, she saw it as a “scary word” and “genuinely thought disabled people couldn’t do very much”.
She said: “It is only being on the team and being around people and watching disabled sport that I have started to have an understanding of disability.
“Sport is a really good way of showing the general public what disability is and maybe they will think about it more.
“They will probably realise that there are opportunities out there and if you give disabled people opportunities, they can actually be really good if you give them that chance.”
Another British athlete certain to be at the centre of media and public attention is Jonnie Peacock, who was speaking this week fresh from breaking the world record in the T44 100 metres, having beaten the mark previously set by South African Oscar Pistorius.
The showdown between Peacock, Pistorius – who will also be competing at the Olympics – and the American Jerome Singleton is likely to be one of the highlights – if not the highlight – of the games.
He told DNS: “It has the possibility of being the biggest event of the Paralympics.”
Earlier, he had dismissed any talk that he might be favourite in the event after his world record. “Ultimately, Oscar is the man with the Paralympic title to lose. There are plenty of others who are going to challenge him. It is about who can cope on the day.
“I don’t think there is any pressure on any one of us. The pressure is on Oscar as the Paralympic champion from 2008.”
But Peacock told DNS that he would not be drawn into the expected media hype around the race.
He said: “I am not going to think too much about the media. I will run and then think about it afterwards. I have to focus on myself. I train for me, to represent my country.”
His hopes for himself, he said, are to “walk away and know that I couldn’t have done better. Fourth, last or first, I will be happy.”
To mark 50 days until the start of the games, LOCOG has released its selection of 50 key sporting events during the Paralympics, including Jonnie Peacock’s hoped-for showdown with Pistorius and Singleton in the T44 100 metres final on 6 September, and Libby Clegg aiming for T12 100 metres gold on 2 September.
Tickets are available for many of the 50 events.