Ex-Army commando Goddard hopes to drive Britain to Paratriahlon glory at Rio 2016

By Gary Anderson

gary andersonWhen Britain's Jimmy Goddard lines up for the start of the Paratriathlon event at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, it will be 12 years since the former army commando's life changed forever.

The glorious setting of Rio's Copacabana Beach, which will stage the Olympic and Paralympic triathlon competitions in 2016, will be a world away from the colder, damper environs of the Welsh mountains where, in 2004, Goddard was left paralysed from the waist down following a climbing accident.

A talented able bodied triathlete before his accident, it is not inconceivable that the man from Bracknell, Berkshire would have been lining up alongside the Brownlee brothers - Alastair and Jonathan - and taking to the warm Atlantic waters that dance along the sandy shore of this iconic stretch of Brazilian coastline, as part of the British triathlon squad.

Cockroft still riding the London 2012 wave and loving every minute of it

James Crook head and shouldersHannah Cockroft announced herself on the Paralympic athletics scene with a bang in 2010, when she pulled off the remarkable feat of breaking four world records at the British Wheelchair Athletics Association International, before going on to take world titles in the 100 metres and 200m T34 events at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Athletics Championships in Christchurch a year later as a fresh-faced 18-year-old.

And all using a racing chair that was modified by her welder father in Halifax.

"Chuffed to bits" Briscoe sets sights on improving ParalympicsGB performance at Sochi 2014 after Vancouver blank

By Tom Degun

Tom Degun ITG2It was no real surprise earlier this month when the British Paralympic Association (BPA) appointed their performance director Penny Briscoe as the ParalympicsGB Chef de Mission for the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.

For over a decade now, Briscoe has helped mastermind the British team's performances at the Paralympics, where they have maintained a top three position for the three consecutive Summer Games she has been involved with.

How less than 11 seconds changed Jonnie Peacock's life

Tom Degun ITG2It took less than 11 seconds for Jonnie Peacock to go from promising Paralympic athlete to sporting superstar.

Well, 10.90sec, to be precise.

That is the time it took the 19-year-old single-leg amputee from Cambridge to win 100 metres T44 final in what was the blue-ribbon event of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

The Paralympics are closer to our lives than the Olympics, claims Sainsbury's chief executive

By Tom Degun

Tom Degun - ITGIn the grand story of the London 2012 Games, May 4, 2010, will probably be only a small footnote even though it signalled an historic moment and led to controversy that went far behind these shores.

It was the day that retail giant Sainsbury's were officially unveiled by London 2012 as the first ever Tier One Paralympic-only sponsor.

The multi-million pound deal remains one of the biggest ever deals for the Paralympic Movement, giving Sainsbury's exclusive rights to the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

We couldn't be happier with the London Paralympics but we will be doing our Games the Brazilian way, says CPB President

By Tom Degun

Tom Degun_-_ITGAfter a hugely successful London 2012 Paralympic Games, the spotlight has turned well and truly on Rio de Janeiro and a high bar has been set for the Brazilian city after International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Sir Philip Craven declared Britain's event the "greatest Paralympics ever".

One thing for certain is that Brazil will be staging a very different Games. While Britain is steeped in Paralympic history, the Games having been created in Stoke Mandeville in 1948, Brazil is positioning itself as its future with Rio 2016 set to be the first time the Paralympics have been staged in South America.

There will be several key figures involved in ensuring the Rio 2016 Paralympics runs smoothly but perhaps none will be more important than the President of the Brazilian Paralympic Committee (CPB) Andrew Parsons.

Tom Degun: There is a reason why wheelchair rugby is still known as murderball

Tom Degun_-_ITGWhen it first started, it wasn't called wheelchair rugby.

It was in fact known by the rather ominous name of murderball.

As the legend goes, murderball was introduced to the United States in 1981 by a man named Brad Mikkelsen.

With the aid of the University of North Dakota's Disabled Student Services, Mikkelsen formed the first American team called the Wallbangers. The first North American competition was held shortly after in 1982.

Several years later, as the sport began to grow internationally, it was officially changed from murderball to the far less sinister wheelchair rugby.

Fortunately, for fans of the hard-hitting discipline, the rules have remained virtually unchanged and the power, skill and sheer brutality that make it so incredibly watchable are still its core features.

During the London 2012 Paralympics, the sport was housed in the 12,000 capacity Basketball Arena on the Olympic Park and, as with most sports at these incredible Games, a full crowd was in attendance for virtually every match.

Steve Brown_Kylie_Grimes_David_Anthony_Aaron_Phipps_and_Mike_KerrSteve Brown, Kylie Grimes, David Anthony, Aaron Phipps and Mike Kerr of Great Britain's wheelchair rugby squad

I have encountered the sport several times in my career so far, including at a superb Great Britain exhibition match in the streets of central London not too long ago, but my busy schedule at London 2012 left me resigned to watching the majority of the wheelchair rugby competition on the giant monitors at the Main Press Centre (MPC).

However, there was one match that I refused to miss and that was the gold medal game.

I had been expecting to see a repeat of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic final, and indeed the 2010 World Championship final, where the United States had defeated Australia on both occasions.

However, a major shock in the semi-final saw Canada edge a dramatic 50-49 win over reigning Paralympic and world champions to claim a surprise final berth.

There were no such problems on the other side of the draw as Australia kept to the script with a comfortable 59-45 win over Japan to book their place in the gold medal match and set up an intriguing clash.

As I arrived at the gleaming Basketball Arena, which will sadly be taken down now the Games are over, there was an air of anticipation ahead of the match.

The US had just taken the bronze with a 53-43 win over Japan but a huge collection of green and gold shirts in the crowd showed that the majority of the 12,000 who were in attendance to see Australia march to glory.

Most of the green and gold shirts had "BATT 3" plastered across the back of them and for those who have any really knowledge of wheelchair rugby it is not hard to guess why.

Canadas Zak_Madell_L_crashes_into_Australias_Ryley_Batt_CCanada's Zak Madell (L) crashes into Australia's Ryley Batt (C) during the London 2012 gold medal wheelchair rugby match

The formidable Ryley Batt is still only 23-years-old but is already the veteran of three Paralympic Games, including London 2012, and has for several years been regarded as the best wheelchair rugby player on the planet.

His story is also a fascinating one.

Born without legs, Batt required surgery to separate his webbed fingers and until the age of 12, he did not use a wheelchair, preferring to move around on a skateboard.

He was finally convinced to use a wheelchair when he saw a demonstration of wheelchair rugby at his school and after taking up the sport later that year, he quickly became addicted.

His huge talent soon became clear and Batt became the youngest Paralympic rugby player in the world at the age of 15 when he went to Athens 2004. He returned to the Games in Beijing in 2008 to help the team to silver but London finally saw the Australian attend a Paralympics at the peak of his powers.

The gold medal match saw some huge collisions and heavy knockdowns that continually drew gasps from the crowd. But all the while, Batt appeared on a different planet. Try as they might, Canada simply couldn't deal with the pace and movement of the Australian as he constantly ghosted through their vicious defence with apparent ease to leave them bemused.

The giant Batt also proved a titan in the Australian defence, rarely coming off second best in a collision and making hits so big that the term "murder" looked like it might reappear in the official vocabulary of the sport.

Ryley Batt_10-09-12Ryley Batt celebrates winning gold in the mixed wheelchair rugby against Canada at the London 2012 Paralympic Games

He ended with an unbelievable 37 goals in the final, over half of Australia's points as they won 66-51, but Batt himself had not realised this in his one-man demolition job.

"Was it 37?" he told me in the mixed zone straight after the game with a smirk before quickly recomposing himself.

"It's a team sport though.

"It's fantastic to score goals of course, but the work of the boys out there who were screening for me, the low-pointers out there, the mid-pointers, high-pointers, they've all done a fantastic job, and they allow me to look good on court when they probably do all the work for me."

It was very modest of the wheelchair rugby star to say but the rest of the team, and indeed every wheelchair rugby player at London 2012, deserves huge credit.

They put on a pure exhibition of brilliant sport, which like its able-bodied counterpart, featured tactics, pace, power and, of course, the brutal hits.

As the show ended, I heard a small handful of spectators who had very much enjoyed the match, enquire why rugby is not at the Olympics as well.

I pointed out to them that the sport would be making its long-awaited return to the Olympics (having last appeared at the Paris Games in 1924) at Rio 2016 in the form of rugby sevens.

They seemed pleased and so they should be.

It promises to be a spectacular event, and with two servings of murderball in Rio in four years, rugby and wheelchair rugby could prove a show stealer in Brazil.

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames

Mike Rowbottom: With the box marked 2012 boldly ticked, the prospects for Britain at Rio 2016 look rich indeed

Mike Rowbottom_3The goal for Britain's track and field athletes at these Paralympics was 23-28 medals, with between five and eight medals, and a place in the top 10 nations. After today's final flourish by David Weir and Shelly Woods in the golden sunshine of The Mall, the host nation finished with 29 medals, 11 of them gold, and third place overall.

Not surprising, then, that the Swede appointed just over three years ago as head coach of the UK Athletics Paralympics programme, Peter Eriksson, expressed heartfelt satisfaction with the way things have turned out as he stood alongside the finish line.

"We have exceeded our target," he said, before underlining his wish to see the momentum through to the Rio Paralympics of 2016.

Shortly after his appointment in December 2008, Eriksson – who had guided Canadian track and field athletes to 119 medals in the course of the previous seven Paralympics – told insideworldparasport that Britain was under-performing in the athletics arena. The 2000 Sydney Games saw a haul of 47 medals, which fell to 17 at the two subsequent Games.

"I want to make sure the team does well in 2012 and beyond," he said. "I think there's a lot of things we can do that are going to make a difference."

Peter Eriksson_09-09-12
Eriksson (pictured above) was encouraged in his ambitions by the fact that UK Sport was investing £6.6 million ($10.6 million/€8.3 million) for the Paralympic cycle just ended, which was 20 times more than the investment for those he oversaw in Canada.

"I do think this is a great challenge, though, because Britain can only get better," he added. "We will be optimising our performance by 2012, but what we do in 2016 could be the biggest definition."

Three years on, with the box marked 2012 boldly ticked, it seems the prospects for 2016 are heady indeed. So what's the secret – other than the money, of course?

"The change we have done is we integrate everything with the Olympic programme," Eriksson reflected today. "Same expectations, same training camps, same support. Then we upped expectations on the athletes so it's no longer a rewards programme, it's an investment in medals.

"Plus the support staff and coaching staff I have with the team is partly the same as the Olympic team. They are the best. They can make sure we deliver."

Eriksson has not got where he is today by being a softy. "Everybody has to be sure of what is expected of them," he said, ominously, after taking over his current position. "If athletes can't live up to the expectations that have been set then this is not the place to be."

david weir_09-09-12
But he was bursting with praise for the two athletes who had delivered medals on the day, and indeed for the overall impact made upon the wider world by Britain's Paralympic athletes.

"I am so happy for David (pictured above) and Shelly (pictured below)," he said. "For David to step up and do it again is tough. And Shelly has had a really tough time on the track. It has been a nightmare for her. To be able to do what she did today is phenomenal. This is where she belongs.

"David is the most talented racer I have ever seen. You can see it on the track with the speed and acceleration, but now he's showing the best endurance too. How much better can it be? The best racer I've seen in history."

One of the more remarkable sporting statistics of the past week concerns television viewing figures. A total of 6.6 million watched Channel 4's coverage of Thriller Thursday in the Olympic Stadium. The ITV figure for England's World Cup qualifier football match in Moldova on Friday was 3.9 million.

shelly woods_09-09-12
"People now understand the sport better," Eriksson explained. "There have been 80,000 for every session and it does not just come from cheap tickets. How much better can it be? And 86 or 87 world records shows the fierce competition all round.

"Last Thursday in the stadium it was the greatest night in Paralympic history and probably one of the top three nights in sports, period. It can't be much better. What did we have – 112 decibels? It was louder than for Mo Farah. Mo, you have to do it better!"

On the subject of merging resources with Olympic counterparts, Eriksson added: "We have integrated a lot already. We do events in Diamond League and we try to integrate as much as we can. We have a really good developmental programme called Parallel Success.

"But we need to get more and more people into the sport. The last three years we have got almost nearly 300 new athletes classified so we are growing. Thanks to my team we are getting there."

Eriksson described the question of whether he will be staying on to see things through to 2016 as "the £100,000 [$160,000/€125,000] question", adding: "I always wanted to stay until 2016 because first thing I said when I got here in an interview, which I got in trouble for, was the best performance from this team will come in 2016. Then it's up to negotiations. I believe that still about 2016.

"The Russians will be behind us. I would like to stay. Why move down from the top of the Premier League to the third division? It's not fun."

Chantal Petitclerc_09-09-12
He is also hoping that Canada's multiple Paralympic champion Chantal Petitclerc (pictured above), who is currently mentoring many of the British athletes, will also stay on.

Eriksson has an enthusiastic ally in his determination to create a thriving new generation of Paralympic track and field competitors for Britain.

In the wake of his marathon victory, Weir spoke about some of the up-and-coming wheelchair racers whose careers he is supervising at his Kingston club.

"We've got a bright future ahead," Weir said. "That's my part for the legacy. I'm going to make sure there's going to be a number of men and women in wheelchair races in Rio – maybe not medalling but we'll get them there.

"Hopefully from there'll be another flurry of kids, army guys, whoever wants to come and try wheelchair racing. You don't have to be elite. Just come down to us at Kingston and we'll try our best and support you."

With support of that calibre, the prospects for Rio look rich indeed.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the past five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames and insideworldparasport.
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