By Mike Rowbottom

Mike Rowbottom_17-11-11Britons, famously, are obsessed with a nice cup of tea. Miss Jane Marple. She liked nothing better than a nice cup of tea. Apart from solving gruesome murders, that is. And Boy George. He liked tea better than sex, or at least he once said he did before it turned out that he preferred heroin more than anything.

When Ben Rushgrove, Britain's Paralympic and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) world 100 metre silver medallist, starts talking about a nice cup of tea, or more accurately a good cup of tea, it soon becomes clear that he is talking about more than just a cup of tea.

No, of course he's not talking about murder. Or heroin. He's talking about...well, why not let him explain?

"I have been using the idea of making a cup of tea – making the best cup of tea you can possibly make – as an example," he tells me after he has just finished talking to pupils at Mile Oak Primary School in Brighton as part of the nationwide Waste Week campaign with EDF Energy's School Programme.

"I relate it to my training. It's a jokey example, but at the same time you can relate the two things.  Most people who make a cup of tea don't think about it, they just do it automatically.

"But you can also show care, practice and attention to detail. It's all about doing the best you can, and being the best you can be."

At 24, Rushgrove – who was born with cerebral palsy and competes in the T36 category – is still on a mission to find out what his best is, but his best so far has been pretty prodigious.

In his first big international event – the 2006 IPC  World Championships in Assen – the then 18-year-old Bath sprinter set a European 100m record of 12.41sec in the semi-final, only to suffer the disappointment and shock of being disqualified on a technicality from the final. Two days later he recovered his fortunes by taking a bronze medal in the 200m final.

The following year at the Visa Paralympic World Cup he became the first male T36 200m runner to break 25 seconds, setting the then world record of 24.86sec.

At the Beijing 2008 Paralympics he won the 100m silver in 12.35sec behind Roman Pavlyk of Ukraine despite suffering from a foot injury so bad that he had to collect his medal on crutches and then withdraw from the subsequent 200m event.

Roman Pavlyk_of_Ukraine_Benjamin_Rushgrove_of_Great_Britain_Wa_Wai_So_of_Hong_Kong_Graeme_Ballard_of_Great_Britain_and_Andrey_Zhirnov_of_Russia_ipc_world_champs_nz_27-03-12
Last year, at the IPC World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand, the Briton collected another 100m silver after beating Pavlyk (pictured far left) but narrowly failing to chase down the world record holder, Wa Wai So (centre) of Hong Kong, who had won the Paralympic 200m in Rushgrove's absence, lowering the world record to 24.65.

Rushgrove followed up in Christchurch by claiming bronze in the 200m behind So and gold medallist Pavlyk, although he remains dissatisfied with that performance. "I jogged round the bend and left things too late," he recalls. "It was a bad day at the office."

As he looks forward to the impending Paralympics on home soil, So and Pavlyk are in his sights, and his thoughts.

"The three of us have been fighting over the same medals since the World Championships in 2006," he says. "We've all beaten one another and in London any one of us could be standing on top of the podium.

"It's a bitter rivalry. But at the same time there is a great camaraderie between us and we all keep in touch with each other. Our races are much more interesting to watch than Usain Bolt's because you never know who will cross the line first."

Looking back to the last Paralympics, however, it is a wonder that Rushgrove got to the start line, never mind the finish line, having broken his foot three weeks before the Games.

ben rushgrove_beijing__27-03-12
"When I ran the 100m in Beijing my foot was already broken in two places," he recalls. "I needed an injection of local anaesthetic in the foot before the final, and it was so painful it caused me to pass out. I came round just in time for the warm up. The foot was swollen already, and so when you inject something into it you are adding more pressure to it.

"It was not ideal. But then it was the Beijing Paralympics. I didn't know when I'd ever get an opportunity like that again. If I didn't take that chance to run, whatever it took, I realised I might be left regretting it for the rest of my life.

"Competing in sport is great. But sport at elite level is obsessive, and you want to succeed so much that you will do stuff like that to give yourself a chance."

Even that turn of events pales, however, compared to the disadvantage Rushgrove overcame when he was a young child. Doctors told him he would never walk.

Rushgrove's inspiring life story so far was the subject of a documentary film, entitled Ben, that was screened last October in his native city of Bath, where he trains at the University and he received a BSc in Sports Performance in 2009. His coach, Rob Ellchuk, works with a group that contains able-bodied and disabled athletes.

Given his experiences at the 2006 World Championships, and the 2008 Paralympics, it might appear that Rushgrove has become accustomed to combining triumph and disaster at the big events.

"I think that's probably a fair assessment," he says.  "But accidents and injuries are part of the sport, and to a large extent it is about making sure that you can deal with them when they happen.

"I have a fantastic support team now at the University of Bath who are helping me to avoid getting injured in the first place. Any niggles that come along are screened and dealt with before they turn into anything serious.

"So I am really, really confident that I will be going into London 2012 without injury. Touch wood, I am fine at the moment, and training is going really well."

ben rushgrove_27-03-12
Looking at the bigger picture – something this smart young man is always ready to do – he reckons that Britain will struggle to replace China at the top of the overall medals table, but insists that British Paralympians will better the total of 102 medals which allowed them to finish overall runners-up to the hosts four years ago.

That said, there is an even bigger picture to be perceived.

"Beijing was great, but there is a lot more to the build-up for London 2012, a lot more anticipation and general awareness of the Paralympics," Rushgrove says. "I get stopped in the street now in Bath by people asking how things are going with my preparations. It's brilliant.

"It's so good for disability sport in general to find such a growing level of interest and knowledge in this country."

Paralympic Champion Ben Rushgrove supports the nationwide Waste Week campaign with EDF Energy's School Programme, The Pod and Eco-Schools. Click here for for more information.

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. Follow him on Twitter here.