Rio Paralympics: double amputee Richard Whitehead aims to amaze again tonight

11 September 2016

by Barney Cullum

Richard Whitehead runningRichard Whitehead, born with no legs beneath his knees, defends his London Paralympic Games gold medal tonight (11.08pm on Channel 4 or the IPC website for viewers outside the UK).

An amputee world record holder in both the 200 metres and the marathon, the breadth of Richard’s achievements confound logic. Winning a sprint gold medal at the age of 40 would raise eyebrows, but it won’t surprise those who have tracked his amazing career.

‘My whole outlook is around being positive, believing that you can achieve anything in life, and working really, really hard.’ — Richard Whitehead

Richard has already achieved so much. His first taste of the Paralympics came in the Turin Winter Olympics of 2006, where he competed in ice sledge hockey. He taught himself to run in his twenties, first through attaching sport caps to his knees, then working his way up from running his first mile to running marathons.

The two hours, 42 minutes time he ran at Chicago’s marathon a few years ago is as impressive now as it was then. Earlier this summer, in the week he turned 40, he knocked half a second off his own 200 metres world record.

His capacity to stretch himself seems to have no limits. There is no marathon for lower limb amputees at the Rio Paralympics, so the Nottinghamshire runner’s focus is the 200 metres tonight, and then the 100 metres later in the week. Richard is competing against fellow lower limb amputees at the Paralympics – the events are described as ‘T42 classification’ – but he would prefer to go up against an even wider pool of talent.

‘Racing against people with similar impairments is meant to give me a level playing field to compete, but really I want to compete against everybody else and have it be first across the line [takes all], whether they’ve got two legs or one arm.’

Richard’s values come over clearly. He’s about professionalism, dedication and commitment to excellence. He transcends disability sport and has done since surprising his peers by making the swimming team at school.

Where Richard’s career goes beyond Rio is open to speculation, and imagination, but we’d be wise to savour Britain’s most underrated sportsman at what is likely to be his final Paralympic Games.

Barney Cullum is a freelance journalist – covering the games for a range of organisations – and an external communications officer for Leonard Cheshire Disability. A version of this article also appears on Vice.

Photo by onEdition.

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