By Tom Degun

December 19 - Britain's athletes may not be able to compete against the top nations until Rio 2016 Paralympics, Peter Eriksson (pictured), the UK Athletics Paralympic head coach, has warned.

The Swede, one of the world’s most decorated Paralympic coaches who had led athletes under his charge to an astonishing 119 medals since 1984, admits the job he has taken on is harder than he thought.

Eriksson was the long-time coach of legendary wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc, one of the most successful Paralympians of all-time with 21 medals, 14 of them gold, and was employed to turn Britain into a world-force by London 2012.

But the two-time Canadian coach of the year has discovered since starting in February that there is much work to do.

Britain finished second overall at the Beijing Paralympics last year but the athletics team could only manage two gold medals - both claimed by David Weir - and a total of 17 out of 480 available medals meaning that the team finished in a lowly 18th place in the below Ireland, Croatia and Morocco.

Eriksson told insideworldparasport: "Here in Great Britain, the structure is far more organised than the set-up I was involved with when I worked in Canada.

"There are truly fantastic facilities in this country for elite Paralympic athletes to become the best in the world.

"However, it takes time to do this and I’m not sure if 2012 is a realistic time-frame for the GB Athletics team to be challenging the top nations in the sport.

"We have some very good youngsters coming through so the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympics are perhaps the Games where the Great British athletes have more of a chance to do well but with London 2012 being a home Games, we will have to be ready for then."

Eriksson believes that all of Britain's potential medallists for London 2012 have been identified already and are in the system.

He said: "It is a fantastic challenge for me taking this role and I am very excited about the 2012 Games.

"We have existing talent in this country that we just need to keep improving in the build up to the Games as it is unlikely that we will find someone off the street with no elite competition experience to win gold for Great Britain at this stage.

"Could it happen?

"It is possible but like I say, it is unlikely so we must do the best with the athletes we have who at their very best, can achieve medals at the 2012 Paralympics."

Eriksson revealed that he will be very tough on athletes who he thinks are under-performing in a harsh Lottery-funded environment designed to produce medal winners.

He said: "We will be extremely hard on athletes that we do not think have the potential to win medals and athletes who are not performing to the best of their abilities.

"As an elite athlete, your place in the GB Athletics team is always under pressure and there are no free-tickets to the 2012 Paralympics so athletes must consistently perform well to get there.

"It will be very tough for us to claim medals at the Games but we will be working very hard to be successful and it is a challenge that everyone in the GB Athletics Team is really relishing.

"I am sure it will bring out the best in us."

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected].

Related stories
December 2009:
 Top foreign coach appointed for 2012 Paralympics