03 August 2008

Nine stars to watch at Beijing 2008

A SUMMER of sport beckons for dozens of North athletes who are competing in the Beijing Olympics and its partner competition, the Paralympics. Designed for athletes with physical, mental and sensorial disabilities, the Paralympics promises to be a medals feast for Team GB, which has 205 sporting stars competing in 18 of the 20 events. Coreena Ford takes a look at the nine athletes from the region who are heading to China.

On track for success

SUNDERLAND’S Hazel Simpson, 29, has been one of Britain’s most consistent sprinters for almost a decade, winning medals at Paralympic, World and European levels.

Hazel, of New Herrington, was 11 years old when she first discovered athletics and she won gold in the 100m sprint in Sydney 2000.

But Hazel, who has cerebral palsy, is taking a break from the sport after competing in the 100m and 200m sprint in Beijing because she’s planning on starting a family with her husband.

But the new bride aims to be back in shape for the London Paralympics in 2012.

Sprint king can’t wait

SPRINTER Stephen Payton is one of the most experienced members of Team GB’s athletics squad, and he can’t wait to get out on the track in Beijing.

Stephen, who was born in Tyneside but now lives in Uphall, West Lothian, has competed at almost every major disability championship over the last 10 years.

He trained at Gateshead while he was studying at Northumbria University but he now forms part of a trio of Scottish participants alongside young sprinters Libby Clegg and Neil Fachie.

The 31-year-old, who has cerebral palsy, will be taking part in the 200m and 400m sprint events.

At the sharp end of games

MIDDLESBROUGH’s Lee Fawcett has only been fencing for a short time, having switched from wheelchair basketball in 2005 . . . yet he is now the sole athlete representing his country in the sport this summer, in the individual sabre event.

Lee, 32, who is paralysed, already has two medals to his name. He won a bronze medal in the Team Sabre event at the European Championships in Spain in 2005 and this was followed by another Bronze at the World Cup in Italy in 2006.

Aiming for top

JAVELIN ace Kenny Churchill, 38, is a veteran of the Paralympics having taken part in the athletic event in Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney and Athens.

And the play worker, of Whinney Banks, Middlesbrough, will be journeying to China looking to defend the gold medals he won in the last three paralympics.

The Durham City Harriers member, who has celebral palsy, hopes he’ll be in the form of his life for Beijing, just as he was in Athens when he set a new world record with a throw of 48.09m.

Ace's hope

YORK table-tennis player Cathy Mitton was one of the first athletes to be named in the GB team for the Paralympic Games, and it was against all odds.

Cathy, 47, is one of 10 table-tennis players journeying to China a month after the Olympic Games’ razzmatazz takes place — the third time she has taken part in the Paralympics. It has been a real challenge for Cathy just to take up the sport.

Cathy, of Rufforth, has used a wheelchair since she was a youngster, having contracted polio at the age of two. She now excels at table tennis, but it took her years just to find a suitable venue which allowed wheelchair access, allowing her to play her chosen sport.

She confessed: “When I am competing I am actually a bag of nerves . . . I feel sick inside.”

Bid for net gains

AT only 25, Terry Bywater of Redcar, Teesside, is still one of the youngest members of the GB men’s wheelchair basketball team, yet he is also one of the most established squad members.

Terry was just 17 when he made his Paralympic debut in Sydney, when the team agonisingly missed out on a medal and finished fourth, when they were beaten by Australia 64-52 in the semi-final.

He returned to the squad in 2004 for Athens when the team clinched bronze in the dying minutes of a tough play-off with the USA and is expected to be a key player next week, having been top scorer for the team at the European Under-23 Championships in 2002 and 2004.

Setting sail for glory

SUNDERLAND sailor John Robertson, 36, is over the moon at being selected to compete as part of the three-person keelboat, the Sonar, along with Wales’s Stephen Thomas and Essex’s Hannah Stodel.

Robertson skippered this crew to sixth place in the last Paralympics, so this time the trio are hoping to go further.

He said: “It’s a pretty special feeling to get selected for the Games, especially for the second time.

“From our experiences in Athens, we’ve learnt how special the Paralympics is.

“We’ll go out there with the aim of doing as well as we can, but as is the way with sailing, it’s in the lap of the gods to some extent. We’ll give it Billy Beans and hope that it’s good enough to win us a medal at the end of the day.”

Throwing for gold

STEPHEN MILLER is a hot favourite for gold in the discus . . . but he says he’ll have to break his own world record to retain the club title for a fourth time.

The 28-year-old, of Cramlington, Northumberland, who has travelled to the training base in Macau with his parents, says the competition in Beijing will be stronger than ever.

Stephen works in the IT department at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead and is secretary of Newcastle United Disabled Supporters Association.

He said: “Every Paralympics is different, and Beijing will definitely have a different feel from the other three I have competed in.

“I don’t think it will be as bad as a lot of people are suggesting, and I’m looking forward to getting out there.

“You have to adapt to everything . . . the culture, the food, the people and the places.

“It’s going to be very, very humid out there, and there will be a lot of smog as well, but the conditions will be the same for everyone.”

Fran going for new haul

CHAMPION swimmer Fran Williamson, 23, was absolutely terrified of the water when she was a child, according to her proud dad Duncan, but she’s certainly overcome her fears now.

Fran, who originally comes from Sunderland but now lives in Cambridge, helped Great Britain’s swim team to a tally of 52 medals at the Athens Paralympics — more than any other nation — and that was in her debut.

Fran, who has cerebral palsy, hopes she’ll be adding a second bagful of medals to her collection, having won three silvers and one bronze in Greece.

No comments:

Post a Comment