An extraordinary five-year journey culminated in Ben Watson winning gold in the men’s C3 time trial at Fuji International Speedway on Tuesday.
Watson believes the life-changing journey he has made since the Rio Games should show anyone looking for inspiration what dedication and effort can bring.
The 32-year-old, from Stockport, said: “In 2016 I was watching the Olympics and the Paralympics from a desk job in the UK. I was working in property as a chartered surveyor. I was 92kg and drinking a lot of beer and partying, basically.
“I did a Talent ID [programme] in 2016 and I’ve gone from there really. I’m in quite good shape now and the belief of people around me has got me here.”
He added: “If you are inspired by this, go and try sports. Go and try para cycling. Go and try anything that interests you. What have you got to lose?
“I turned up, had a go and this is where I am. It takes a lot of work and focus, but to be able to come and do this on the world stage is absolutely amazing.
“A big thank you to the support staff who are behind me, family, friends, everybody at home who has supported me throughout this journey. This is for you really.”
On winning gold, Watson said: “At the start of 2019 I started to go full focus on the road in this event and it’s really paid off.
“The two guys in the C3 category on the track are outstanding and I think this has vindicated my decision to focus on the road.
“I’m the road time trial Paralympic champion. I’m over the absolute moon. I really didn’t think I’d ever get here and do this.
“I came into it thinking, ‘I’ve got a chance, I like this course, I’m in good nick’. But I had no idea I’d be going like this.”
On another medal-laden day for Paralympics GB, George Peasgood made history with his bronze medal in the men’s C4 time trial.
His medal was the 1,000th won by an Olympic or Paralympic athlete (at both summer and winter Games) since National Lottery funding began in 1997.
The first medal of this new era of support was won in Nagano, at the Olympic Winter Games in 1998. Peasgood also won silver in triathlon’s men’s PTS5 last weekend.
His cycling bronze followed Dame Sarah Storey’s 16th gold (C5 time trial), while there were also silver medals for Lora Fachie (women’s B time trial) and Crystal Lane-Wright (C5 time trial).
Dunn breaks world record in his ‘worst event’ to win third gold of Games
By Molly McElwee, in Tokyo
Reece Dunn is the undisputed British king of the pool in Tokyo, after making it triple-gold and three world records at his debut Paralympic Games.
The breakout star surprised even himself on Tuesday night, after swimming a world record in the SM14 200m individual medley, an event he only harboured hopes of possibly making the podium for.
It followed his two golds and two world records last week, in the 200m freestyle and 4×100 men’s freestyle relay, as well as a silver on day one in the 100m butterfly.
The 25-year-old’s latest was one of five medals won by the British team at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on Tuesday.
He achieved it while nursing a shoulder injury, picked up during the relay on Saturday. “I didn’t really expect to win gold, I just wanted to medal,” Dunn said.
“After the relay, I just tried to nurse my shoulder for the next few days. Some adrenalin got me through that race. I don’t know how I did it.
“My mental attitude has been top notch, so confident going into races. I wasn’t nervous at all, it’s not my main event, it’s probably the worst one in the programme this week.”
A world record is not a bad result for his “worst” event. Dunn has proved himself a slick competitor in Tokyo, following up on his three golds at the 2019 World Championships to deliver here, when it mattered most.
Previously competing in able-bodied events, Dunn, who has autism, was guided towards para sport in 2018 by a new coach. On Thursday he races his final event, the 100m backstroke, where he could well make it four golds, plus a silver at an individual Games.
Though not a British record in the pool – Christopher Holmes won six golds and one silver at the 1992 Games in Barcelona – it is an impressive haul for a relatively newbie para swimmer, especially after he revealed to struggling for motivation during the lockdown months of no competition.
Dunn said: “I love competing. You train to compete, when there was a whole 12-month block with nothing to really aim for, no end goal, it’s difficult.
“I didn’t expect to get three golds at all but I’m a confident person when I’m in good shape. I believe no one can beat me.”
At the exact moment Dunn powered to his victory, team-mate Stephen Clegg was voicing his own ambitions to race a world record time in his signature S12 100m butterfly on Friday.
He had just snuck his second medal in Tokyo, a bronze medal in the 100m freestyle event in a British record time, but already had loftier aims in mind: “It’s a good omen for the event I’ve been completely 100 per cent focused on these last three years.”
Clegg, 25, who has Stargardt disease – a deteriorating genetic eye condition – is brother to double-Paralympic champion sprinter Libby, and has his heart set on his own gold.
He swam a world record in April, and since then has had the time he is targeting in Tokyo set as his phone’s screensaver: “I’m really, really excited to see what kind of time I can lay down – hopefully do some world record performances.”
In the women’s S14 200m individual medley there were two British medals, with Bethany Firth and Louise Fiddes making the podium again to take silver and bronze.
Fiddes had been disqualified from her heat, for using a butterfly kick during the breast stroke leg, but was later reinstated for the final after the British team appealed.
She beat team-mate Jessica-Jane Applegate to the medal, while Hannah Russell won her second medal in Tokyo, with bronze in the S12 100m freestyle.
Grainger hints at funding boost for wheelchair rugby
By Molly McElwee in Tokyo
Dame Katherine Grainger, the UK Sport chair, has addressed the decision to cut wheelchair rugby’s funding in 2016, after the British team won its first ever Paralympic gold medal on Sunday.
The triumph was in spite of the governing body losing its high-performance UK Sport funding after Rio, only receiving additional emergency funds during the few months build-up to Tokyo. Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby, who have been awarded £2.6 million funding for Paris 2024, at one time this cycle had to crowdfund in order to finance the team.
Grainger said the story was evidence of how the sport rallied to prove its worth. “The public money is so accountable, we have to make decisions based on criteria in order to be fair to every sport,” Grainger said. “Unfortunately after 2016 we didn’t have enough money to go around. Nobody wanted to make those cuts and yet they had to. [Wheelchair rugby winning] is brilliant in that it shows that [the funding cut] doesn’t necessarily last until the end of time, every year it is reassessed.
“Wheelchair rugby CEO David Pond always believed in the sport and that they could prove they were worthy of funding and they’ve got it now. What an incredible job he and his team have done to justify his argument that this team had so much to deliver. They just missed out in Rio, and didn’t get funding, but delivered their potential on Sunday and that’s a positive thing for everyone.”
On Tuesday triathlete and cyclist George Peasgood won Great Britain’s 1,000th medal across the Olympics and Paralympics since National Lottery funding was introduced in 1997. Funding from the lottery began after Britain won just one gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Reacting to the news, ParalympicsGB chef de mission Penny Briscoe praised the range of sports winning podium places at Tokyo 2020. She acknowledged that, though trailing in number of medals won, the British team had already secured a wider spread of success than at the Games’s midway point at Rio 2016.
“At this stage more sports have medalled, we’ve got more gold medalling sports, we’ve got more medallists than we had at a similar point in Rio,” she said on Tuesday. “The spread is looking really, really positive. I think the 147 medals in Rio is not a number we’re talking about due to all the non-controllables. But I think from our perspective we’ve put 19 sports out with really strong potential.”
Britain have so far won medals in 13 of 19 sports the team is competing in, and sit second in the medal table with 80 overall, behind China.
Blango lives up to father’s billing with 400m T20 bronze
By Gareth A Davies in Tokyo
The athletics medals continued for Great Britian during Tuesday’s evening session with bronzes for Olivia Breen and Columba Blango.
European champion Blango, competing at only his second major championships, clocked a personal best 47.81 seconds to claim third place in the men’s 400m T20, for intellectual impairment. Blango’s father competed for Sierra Leone as a decathlete at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and was the mayor of Southwark.
Blango, 29, who suffered blood clots on his brain at birth, and was unable to speak until the age of six, ran through heavy rain to earn his third place podium finish. “My Dad always said one day I would make it, and he was right,” said Blango. “It was such a different experience to anything I had experienced before, so it is definitely a race of a lifetime.”
Three-time Paralympian Breen produced 4.91m with her first jump to claim bronze in the women’s long jump T38, after a 4x100m relay bronze at London 2012. “This is my first individual Paralympic medal. I really wanted it in Rio but I put too much pressure on myself,” explained Breen. “I’m delighted with the result.”