LONDON 2012: British Paralympic athletes backed to deliver after Beijing disappointment
BRITISH athletes are being backed to deliver at the London 2012 Paralympics after their 49-strong track and field team was finally confirmed.
LEADING LIGHT: David Weir won the only British athletics gold at the London 2012 Paralympics - a stronger team is backed to deliver at London 2012
With exactly 50 days to go until the opening ceremony, the announcement takes the total size of the British delegation to 288.
Great Britain finished 18th on the athletics medal table in Beijing, with just two golds in their overall haul of 17 medals.
That placed them behind the likes of Ireland, Morocco, Kenya and Tunisia and was in stark contrast to the success of other sports, with Great Britain placing second on the overall medal table.
But team leader Peter Eriksson has hailed the progress of the last four years and points to last year's IPC World Championships in Christchurch, when British athletes won 38 medals, including 12 golds, to finish third ranked overall.
“As you can see from our selection, we’ve made a lot of changes since Beijing and that medal performance has been our benchmark for progress ever since," he said.
“Now, in my third full year at UKA, we’re starting to see the gradual transition to a much more professional squad with a fantastic team spirit as well as having competent performers.
"Overall the strength and depth of the squad has improved and that’s a huge positive.
"We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the number of new athletes coming into the sport and in particular, those that we’ve been able to fast track from development through to international representation at junior and senior level, and that’s evident in this team – which means we’ve had to make some tough decisions.
“I’m confident we can do well and but we can’t underestimate the fact that every other nation will have stepped up their preparation and performance goals in this quickly evolving and fast-improving sport.”
Wheelchair racer David Weir, a double gold medallist in Beijing, is expected to lead the team.
Stephen Miller, a three-time Paralympic gold medallist in the club throw and Dan West, a multiple medallist in the shot and discus, who have been selected for their fifth Games this summer, while Tracey Hinton, a double gold medallist at the recent European Championships, celebrates her sixth Paralympics.
Other Beijing medallists returning to the ParalympicsGB team are Ben Rushgrove, Mickey Bushell, Shelly Woods, Dan Greaves, Hazel Robson and Libby Clegg.
In addition, 28 athletes will make their Games debuts, including new world record holders Hannah Cockroft, Paul Blake and Jonnie Peacock.
Josie Pearson and Richard Whitehead make their first appearance in athletics after representing Britain in Beijing 2008 in wheelchair rugby and in Turin 2006 in ice sledge hockey respectively.
“Training has been going well and I’m completely focused on success in London,” said Weir, the three-time world champion who won a record-equalling sixth London Marathon title in the capital in April.
“Last winter was my first solid block of winter training in a couple of years and that, coupled with the great support team I’m working with, has really helped me both physically and mentally.
“I definitely felt the pressure going into Beijing four years ago but I’ve grown as an athlete since then and I think I proved that to an extent with my gold medals at the World Championships in New Zealand last January.
"There’s no doubt that the T54 class is one of the most fiercely competitive and exciting to watch in Paralympic sport, but I have realistic expectations and I hope that I can give the crowd something to shout about in one of the Games’ showpiece events.”
© Sportsbeat 2012