Tonight the Paralympics kicks off and brings the country together once more for another huge celebration of sport.
Here Is The City have put together a guide on the 20 Team GB stars to look out for over the Paralympic Games starting with this piece focusing on stars of Archery, Boccia, Cycling, Powerlifting, Rowing, Swimming, Table Tennis and Wheelchair Tennis:
Tom Aggar (Rowing) – Having broken his back and suffered a spinal injury, resulting in paralysis of his legs, following an 8 foot fall on a night out with friends, Aggar found himself paralysed in the legs but battled back from the news to establish himself as one of Rowing’s strongest competitors. He now competes in the AS (Arms and Shoulders) category and achieved Gold Medal success at the Beijing Olympics in the Mens Single Sculls. Success has not gone to Aggar’s head however and he has continued to dominate the sport winning the same race at the 2009, 2010 and 2011 World Championships. Aggar has attempted to play down his chances of success but only a fool would bet against him.
Jessica-Jane Applegate (Swimming) – Jessica-Jane has Aspergers but has not let that get in the way of her life. Applegate will be performing at the Olympics for the first time this summer, ready to take on the big names of World swimming and cause an upset in the S14 category. In her first International Event, in Berlin 2012, she won two Gold medals over the 50m Butterfly and 200m Freestyle and picked up two Bronze medals in the 50m and 100m Freestyle. It is widely acknowledged that she is strongest over the 200m distance in the freestyle stroke and it will form one of her events at the Olympics, the other being the 100 metre backstroke. At just 15 years of age she has her whole career ahead of her and will be a strong medal hope this summer and for Olympics to come.
Danielle Brown (Archery) – Daniell Brown's disability is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a chronic progressive disease characterized by severe pain, swelling, and changes in the skin. She won Gold in her debut Olympics in Beijing in the Women’s Individual Compound at the age of just 20 and has won Gold in both of the last two World Championships in the same Individual Compound discipline. Alongside this she even qualified by the GB non-disabled team for the Commonwealth Games, winning team gold and reaching the quarter finals individually, the first English Paralympic athlete to win a medal in able-bodied competition. These Olympics she will once again compete only in the Individual Compound but with a lot more expectation behind her.
Jon-Allan Butterworth (Cycling) – Butterworth's Paralympic story began when he lost his left arm in Iraq in August 2007 where he was involved in a rocket attack on Basra Air Station. The injury would have knocked many down but this former soldier set his sights on making London 2012. He will be approaching his first Games with a steely determination to succeed and comes in on good form; He is the reigning C5 1km Time Trial Champion having won the title for the last two years and he'll attempt to achieve Olympic glory in the same event alongside adding the Pursuit to his track events and the Road Race and Time trial to his road racing events. In 2011 Butterworth broke the C5 1km World Record in his first World Championships, and there is no reason why he cannot break more records over the next two weeks.
Will Bayley (Table Tennis) – Bayley was diagnosed at birth with Arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder that affected all four of his limbs. Bayley will be competing in his second Paralympic Games in London and is almost certain to improve upon his last showing in which he failed to get past the preliminaries individually or the Quarter finals in the team event. Fast forward five years though and Bayley has firmly established himself as one of the top players on the circuit, having won Gold in the 2011 European Championships individually whilst consistently winning silvers in the team event alongside Paul Karabardak. Over the next two weeks he competes in the Singles and team event yet again, and will thrive off the back of home support.
David Weir MBE (Athletics) – Weir has a Spinal cord transection that left him without the use of his legs but has established himself as somewhat of an Ironman of the sport, competing in the T54 category for Athletes with a Spinal Cord Disability. Weir has two Olympic gold medals to his name, both won in Beijing over 800m & 1500m, as well as Silvers in 100m & 400m at Athens & Beijing respectively and Bronzes in 200m & 5,000, again at Athens & Beijing respectively, 6 medals across 6 different disciplines a fantastic achievement. He has also won the London Marathon Wheelchair race six times, including both of the last two years events. In 2011 at the IPC Athletics World Championships Weir won Gold over 800m, 1,500m & 5,000m events that at the Paralympics he will compete in alongside the Marathon. Anybody who can compete competitively over both 100m and Marathon distance is a wondrous specimen, and Weir certainly is that.
Jonnie Peacock (Athletics) – At the age of five Peacock contracted Meningitis, leaving him in an induced coma, flirting dangerously with death. Luckily the Cambridge born athlete batlled the illness although was left a lower limb aputee. That hasn't stopped the youngster however as he gets set to compete in the T44 category for Amputees alongside Oscar Pistorius in one of the most eagerly anticipated battles of the Paralympic games. Though Peacock currently holds the World record of 10.85 seconds in June 2012, and Pistorius has played down his chances of Gold, it's an intriguing rivalry. Peacock finished 6th in the Final of the 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships but has come on leaps and bounds since then, something that has been acknowledged and praised by rivals and at just 19 years of age, he has a big future in Athletics. Peacock will compete only over 100m, but should have enough to achieve success.
Sarah Storey OBE (Cycling) – Sarah Storey was born without a functioning left hand after her arm became entangled in the umbilical cord in the womb, and that has changed her life, though Storey has turned it to her favour. She has competed in the Paralympic games since 1992 in Barcelona where she used to compete in Swimming but has now changed sport. During her swimming career she won 5 Paralympic Gold medals in total, before switching to Cycling in 2005. Her first Cycling Paralympics showed tremendous versatility as she picked up another 2 Gold medals against competitors who had specialised in that event for their whole sporting career. This time around she'll be participating in 4 events, two track: Individual Pursuit and 500m Time Trial, and two road: The Road Race and Time Trial. Storey has competed in able bodied competitions such as the 2010 Commonwealth Games and 2011 Cycling World Cup in Manchester, performing to a valiantly impressive standard and will once again be tipped for success this summer.
Lee Pearson CBE (Equestrian) – Pearson was born with Arthrogryposis and controls horses using his hips. One of Britain’s most successful Olympians ever, with a total of 9 Gold medals won over three different games, he has entered into the Individual, Team and Freestyle Dressage Equestrian events at Sydney, Athens and Beijing. Although he has rode three different horses over the separate Games, he has taken Gold on every occasion that he has competed. A true winner, Pearson does not appear to know any different to Gold. Not only is Pearson a terrific athlete but he is widely acknowledged as a vibrant personality, and this will help amongst the GB camp. He will once again be going in the Individual, Team and Freestyle events and should he add victory in all three events once again he will become Britain’s most decorated Paralympian. If that doesn’t get him his deserved Knighthood, who knows what will.
Ben Quilter (Judo) – Ben Quilter has a degenerative sight condition that has resulted in him having no central vision, being only able to see peripherally. Ben competes in the -60kg Category in Judo and appears for the second time in the Paralympic Games having progressed hugely since Beijing where he finished fifth. Gold medals at the 2010 World Championships and the 2011 World Games, both held in Turkey, are an indication of his skill and abilities. Last time around he was beaten by Ramin Ibrahimov of Azerbaijan, and it is very likely that he will once again prove tricky competition to the Olympic crownm but Quilter is more than capable of reaching the top of the podium.
Alex Rickham & Niki Birrell (Sailing) –Confined to a wheelchair following a diving accident when she was 13 years old (Alex) & born with Cerebral Palsy (Niki), Rickham and Birrell have largely contrasting disabilities but the unlikely combination has proved to be a hugely successful partnership. The pair teamed up in 2007 and the Beijing Paralympics appeared to come just too soon as the pair finished fifth in the SKUD 18 class, but they have since gone on to dominate their field, not finishing below second at any major championships. Winning the 2012 Scandia Sail for Gold event will have done the pair the world of good with the event having taken place in Weymouth where they’ll be competing. The pair now look likely to step up from their Beijing disappointment and establish themselves as Paralympic champions.
Matt Skelhon (Shooting) – Matt Skelhon lost the use of his legs following a car accident but has continued to strive to achieve his dream of competing at the highest level of sport. Skelhon appears GB’s greatest shooting Gold medal hope, heading to London as the reigning R3 10m Air Rifle Prone Mixed SH1 Gold medallist. Since Beijing he has won seven Gold medals across various meets, in particular excelling in the afore-mentioned Prone discipline. This time around he will once again be taking part in the 10m Air Rifle Prone event as well as the 10m Air Rifle Standing and 50m Air Rifle Prone Mixed events. Skelhon has fallen largely under the radar as a medal hope but there is no reason why he can’t be victorious once again.
Ellie Simmonds (Swimming) – Young Ellie was diagnosed as having Achondroplesia but has proven that her disability will not keep her down. Definitely GB’s most recognisable Paralympian athlete, following her Beijing success where her warmth and enthusiasm shone through, she will be competing in the S6 category. Simmonds won two Golds in the pool, aged just 13, in the 100m Freestyle and 400m Freestyle four years ago so with four more years of training the teenager will compete over 50m, 100m & 400m Freestyle and the 200m Individual Medley, a medal hope in all. Many will fancy her to retain her 100m and 400m titles but her progression in the Medley has also seen the field struggle to keep up in recent years. Gold medals in all four of her entered Paralympic events at the 2010 World Championships give an indication of her talent. Ellie featured on the front cover of the Metro this morning and expect her to be on the front cover of many publications over the next few weeks.
Simon Wilson (Wheelchair Fencing) – Wilson is a left leg amputee and is in a large minority of athletes. It is very rare to be appearing in your first Games past the age of 30, but Wilson has bucked the trend and will be making his debut Paralympic Games at the age of 63! Having only taken up the sport in 2007, his rise has been phenomenal culminating in a pre-paralympic victory in the 2012 Nottingham Open event in the Mens Foil, Class A and Mens Epee, Class A. Unfortunately the oldest member of GB’s Paralympic squad missed out on selection for the individual events this time around but with a strong team of Wilson, Craig McCann and Tom Heaton in the Team fencing, GB could find themselves bringing home the Gold here.
Aaron Phipps (Wheelchair Rugby) – As with Jonnie Peacock, Phipps lost both his legs and his fingertips after a horrific bout of meningitis. Perhaps not a sport that you’d expect to see at the Paralympics, but it is a thrilling fast and furious sport nonetheless and one that Phipps excels in, heading into the Games as GB’s star player. Up until 2009, Phipps favoured Wheelchair Racing over Rugby but it soon changed as he picked up the bug for the sport, his talent instantly recognisable. GB are currently ranked fifth in the World rankings and are unlikely to challenge the dominant USA for Gold but may be able to sneak into the medals, an achievement that would be the equivalent to winning Gold for Phipps and co.
Oliver & Sam Hynd (Swimming) – Most parents dream of seeing their child compete at the highest level of Sport, but for Helen Hynd two of her children will be battling it out for glory at the Paralympics, in two of the same events! Both brothers suffer from Muscular Dystrophy but have battled valiantly to achieve success in the pool. It is hard to tell which brother will be going into the Games as the stronger with Sam having dominated for the majority of the last 4 years, yet Oliver is peaking at just the right time. Sam won gold in Beijing over 400 metres last time around, however Oliver was just 12 at the time and so London marks his debut. Over 400 m Freestyle Oliver pipped Sam to second place at the 2012 British Championships but it will be interesting to see how both the young boys do in the event aswell as the 200m Individual Medley for both, 100m Backstroke and Butterfly for Oliver and 100m Breaststroke and Freestyle for Sam. It could be a fruitful summer for the Hynd’s.
Darren Kenny OBE (Cycling) – Kenny's disability is Cerebral Palsy but he has never let it keep him down. The 32 year old is heading into his third Paralympic Games and has been a key cog of the continuous turning wheels of success in British cycling. In Athens 2004 he won two Golds in the 3km Individual Pursuit and 1km Time Trial, and silver in the CP3 Time trial. He returned in Beijing stronger and picked up four gold medals retaining his Individual Pursuit & 1km Time Trial crowns whilst adding Team Sprint and Road Race glory. This time around he competes solely in the Velodrome in the C3 Pursuit and 1km Time Trial. One of the GB athletes almost certain to come away with Gold, having dominated his events for years.
Nigel Murray (Boccia) – Like Kenny, Murray also suffers from Cerebral Palsy, a common disability amongst Boccia players. Britain’s most successful Boccia player in Olympic History, having won Gold Medals at Beijing and Sydney Olympics for the BC1/BC2 Team category and the Individual BC2 category respectively, Murray heads into the Games with a weight of expectation on his shoulders but it won't affect the experienced athlete. Nigel is currently ranked No. 1 in the world for the sport, having consistently performed at the top level, one win at the London 2012 Test event where Murray won the Individual BC2 helping cement his place at the top of the game. Murray has claimed it will be his final Olympics so the man nicknamed ‘Grandpa’ by competitors will hope to finish his Olympic career with success on home soil.
Zoe Newson (Powerlifting) – Zoe Newson was born with Growth Hormone Deficiency but has always displayed a keen interest in sports. Newson approaches her first Paralympic Games as arguably Britain’s best hope of a medal in the Powerlifting and at just 20 years old she is one of the younger competitors in her 40kg category, but has a strong pedigree. During her debut competition back in 2009 at the IWAS World Games she came second at the tender age of 17 and then finished 4th a year later, a remarkable feat. In 2010 came her greatest achievement however when she won Gold at the Junior World Championships for the sport. A Bright future beckons, starting at London?
Peter Norfolk (Wheelchair Tennis) – A motorcycle accident in 1979 left Peter Norfolk with a spinal cord injury. Although he initially played in the open division, he had to restart his career as a quad player following further spinal surgery in 2000, but has taken to the categorisation like a duck to water. In 2004 Norfolk won Britain’s first ever Wheelchair Tennis medals, Gold in Individual and Silver in Doubles alongside Marc Eccleston before he won Gold once again individually at Beijing and added Bronze to his collection alongside Jamie Burdekin. He has won the US Open twice and the Australian Open 4 times including this year so will hope to bring his good form into the Paralympic games. His achievements have been acknowledged as he received the honour of being GB’s flagbearer for the Opening Ceremony but he would give that up for another Gold medal, such is the nature of the man.
The 20 names that we have focused on here are fantastic athletes but so is every single competitor that will be taking part over the next two weeks. Whatever your age, whatever your sport, there is something for everyone and it appears that it will be yet another successful and exciting games for Great Britain as the Paralympic Games hit London with a bang.
image: © ascarr