Rio Paralympic Games review part two: new stars lift Paralympic movement to new heights

16 September 2016

by Barney Cullum

Before the Rio games, Paralympic sport had few genuinely household names.

Ellie Simmonds and David Weir remain the most famous of those still competing, although the latter looks set to retire next year.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Lord Chris Holmes enjoy a profile also, the pair using status gained on the track and in the pool to exert influence in the Houses of Parliament.

But here in Rio, new stars have emphasised there is as much talent to be found in the Paralympics Games as in other sporting arenas.

Kadeena Cox with her Rio 2016 gold medalKadeena Cox has made the biggest breakthrough, becoming the first British athlete for over thirty years to win gold medals across two completely different sports.

The cyclist and sprinter says she wanted to show other people diagnosed with a chronic condition that such news doesn’t mean ‘game over’.

Kadeena is now helping Leonard Cheshire with its ongoing work connecting disabled people to sport and exercise.

Libby CleggLibby Clegg is another athlete who came to the fore.

The blind sprinter has not had the luxury of National Lottery funding like other British athletes. She lost this after having to withdraw from last year’s world championships due to injury.

Despite this setback, and the technical challenge of swapping guide runners, she stormed to gold medal success in both the 100 and 200 metres.

In the 100 metres she became the first female Paralympian to run under 12 seconds.

Meanwhile, American David Brown became the first Paralympian to break 11 seconds.

Most impressive of all, the top four blind runners in the 1,500 metres all recorded times faster than that run over the same distance in the Olympic Games.

In the pool, home favourite Daniel Dias underlined his longevity by reaching 20 Paralympic medals, while Ellie Simmonds — a ‘veteran’ at 21 — added to her own medal collection.

15-year-old Ellie Robinson posed an awkward challenge to her namesake, while the equally precocious Kare Adenegan pushed mentor Hannah Cockroft all the way in the wheelchair racing events.

GB’s men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams both made the semi-finals in runs which featured memorable clashes with the hosts as well as heavyweights USA and China.

As the games came to a conclusion, British fans enjoyed the spectacle of two home-grown stars, Gordon Reid and Alfie Hewett, squaring off.

There was a fitting stage, with the match played on the Tennis Centre’s centre court, the games’ most attractive new venue.

ParalympicsGB’s medal haul was as impressive as that achieved at home in London in 2012.

The emergence of so many new talents suggests the momentum will continue to build through and on to the Tokyo Games in four years time.

With Japanese and American broadcasters among those devoting an increasing amount of airtime to the Paralympic Games, its athletes are now achieving wider international acclaim than ever before too.

Confounding pre-Rio expectations, the movement continues to grow.

Barney is working at the Paralympic Games as a freelance journalist for the Independent, Vice, PosAbility and other outlets. He is also a press officer at Leonard Cheshire Disability.

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