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British para athletes make history to end our extraordinary sporting summer on a high

Dame Katherine Grainger, Chair

Dame Katherine Grainger, Chair

8 min read Partner content

An extraordinary summer is drawing to a close and, as I returned home from Tokyo last week, there was finally time to draw breath and reflect on a very special Paralympic Games. A Games that, in the words of Andrew Parsons, the International Paralympic Committee President, ‘many doubted would happen, many thought impossible’.

Japan proved to once again be wonderful hosts in the most challenging of situations. The best athletes from around the world gathered to inspire, awe, entertain and exceed expectation. The British team showed unbelievable resilience and were exceptional on and off the field of play. They came together from all parts of the UK and collectively delivered a lesson in the art of resilience, passion and ambition; resulting in extraordinary moments which have uplifted and inspired the whole of our nation.

To achieve what they have at these Games is an absolute triumph for our athletes and it was an incredible privilege to have been able to witness first‐hand their incredible performances in Tokyo. I was particularly delighted to be joined in the Japanese capital by our Minister for Sport Nigel Huddleston and the UK’s Ambassador to Japan Julia Longbottom who both proved to be fantastic supporters of and advocates for ParalympicsGB, as they were for Team GB during the Olympic Games. Together, we attended a variety of sports each day to witness the extraordinary feats of athletes, to cheer them on and to remind them of the enormous support they enjoy from back home in the absence of fans in the arena.

Powerhouse of passion and performance

With extraordinary events happening around the world over the past 18 months, ParalympicsGB can be extremely proud of how they adapted and evolved at these Games to remain a powerhouse of passion and performance in Paralympic sport. To better the number of medals achieved from London 2012 with a final total of 124, is nothing short of remarkable.

I think what strikes me the most is the breadth of the success this time. British athletes have made history by winning medals in 18 different sports – this is a record for any nation at the Paralympics. From wheelchair rugby to powerlifting, from the new sports of badminton and taekwondo to the long‐established sports of swimming and athletics the variety is both impressive and exciting.

Tokyo 2020 and ParalympicsGB also spoiled us with the number of breakthrough moments of Paralympic history they provided. Not even the torrential rain at the women’s cycling road race could dampen spirits as Sarah Storey became the most successful British Paralympian of all time with her third gold in Tokyo and 17th in total across eight Paralympics. The 20 members of the GB cycling team all returned home with medals, more than any other Paralympic cycling team in history, and our equestrian dressage team remains the best in the world, winning a team gold medal at every Games since the sport was introduced in 1996.

And the success didn’t stop there, David Smith became our most successful Boccia player in history with his fifth medal and another seasoned campaigner, Jeanette Chippington, competing in canoe sprint, has now medalled in all seven Games she has attended. Furthermore, who couldn’t be thrilled for Sue Bailey winning her first table tennis medal at her sixth Paralympics. We also had less experienced athletes delivering their own slice of GB history as Beth Munro and Daniel Bethell became the first GB athletes to compete and win medals in para‐taekwondo and para‐badminton respectively.

The Most Competitive Paralympics in History

All of these incredible moments have been achieved at what is officially the most competitive Paralympic Games ever. More nations, 86, have won at least one medal in Tokyo than ever before. This is a clear demonstration of how the Paralympic Games, which first began here in the UK at Stoke Mandeville, are reaching an increasing number of nations and athletes across the globe.

For ParalympicsGB to maintain their position as one of the very best nations in the world is therefore an extraordinary achievement. It is a huge testament to the role of the British Paralympic Association in providing the best possible planning, care and opportunity in Tokyo, and to the National Governing Bodies of sports and the unwavering support they give to athletes, particularly through the past 18 months of challenge and concern.

Perhaps what is most remarkable is that British athletes have achieved their record‐breaking feats amid these most difficult and unusual of circumstances. Like many people in the UK, and indeed around the world, life has been anything but normal and yet the athletes still committed to train at the highest possible standards, in any way manageable, so they could compete at the greatest sporting event of their lives. 

Our athletes have not just inspired people across the UK with their performances on the track, field or court, but they have also captured the nation’s hearts with their attitude away from the field of play.

Many of the Paralympians have experienced extended periods of shielding and considerable time away from families or their own support teams. And yet their dreams and desire did not diminish. From Ali Jawad, who has spent much of the past three years shielding to protect his compromised immune system, to Ryan Cockbill building a shooting range at home, British Paralympians have displayed new levels of resilience and optimism. Their attitudes have captured the attention of the British public and their phenomenal performances have enthralled us every day.

World Class Support

These performances are testament to the hard work, commitment, ambition and tenacity of our fabulous athletes, but they are also supported by the investment which those athletes receive from the National Lottery and the Government. Every single person who plays The National Lottery should be extremely proud of the success of Team GB and ParalympicsGB this summer, without their support it simply wouldn’t be possible. I know what it means to be part of Team GB, understanding that it is largely because of the support, generosity and encouragement of the British public that wild ambitions become possible. I cannot emphasise enough that there is something truly special about being a team fuelled by public support. The gratitude of our athletes was clear throughout the Paralympics as athlete after athlete took the time to publicly thank the National Lottery, and the members of the public who buy the tickets, for the part they played in helping ParalympicsGB’s stars achieve their dreams.

The support of the British public through the National Lottery, alongside the continued and sustained investment Olympic and Paralympic Sport have received from Government, allows our athletes to focus full time on their training and preparation and provides them with access to the very best coaching, medical support and sport science in the world. It means that British athletes arrive at Olympic and Paralympic Games as one of the very best prepared teams in the world; with the best possible chance to achieve their dreams and produce extraordinary moments for the British public to enjoy.

British Paralympians in Tokyo have blazed a trail for the next generation, showcasing what is possible, bringing the whole of our nation together and paving the way for others to pursue their own aspirations.

And as a result, our athletes have not just inspired people across the UK with their performances on the track, field or court, but they have also captured the nation’s hearts with their attitude away from the field of play. Whether it be Ellie Robinson’s impassioned speech after competing, 14-time Paralympic champion Sir Lee Pearson talking proudly, sensitively and with his trademark good humour about LGBTQ+ equality or 200m sprinter Richard Whitehead speaking about the power of the Paralympics to improve the lives of young people around the world; our athletes are using the platform that their extraordinary moments create to drive positive change.

The next 1000 medals

The Tokyo Paralympics also marked another important landmark for the Olympic and Paralympic family. When George Peasgood crossed the line to win silver in road cycling’s men’s C4 time trial it was not only a brilliant second medal for him at the Games, but also the 1000th medal won by Great Britain and Northern Ireland across the Paralympic and Olympic Games, summer and winter, since the introduction of National Lottery funding in 1997. 

This major milestone provides a perfect moment for us to look ahead to what the next 1000 British medals will look like and the certainty offered by the Government’s continued financial commitment to Olympic and Paralympic sport means that our athletes can look forward to Paris 2024 with confidence and optimism. I certainly hope that the athletes who will win the next 1000 medals at Beijing, Paris, Milan‐Cortina, Los Angeles and beyond will take inspiration from our Tokyo athletes. I have no doubt that future generations will continue to bring enjoyment and pride to the nation whilst using their own voices and passions to drive positive social change. 

British Paralympians in Tokyo have blazed a trail for the next generation, showcasing what is possible, bringing the whole of our nation together and paving the way for others to pursue their own aspirations. Through their performances, we have seen socially conscious people of immense talent and character display the extraordinary power of sport to lift a nation and to bring optimism to the world. They should each be immensely proud of what they’ve achieved.

*Dame Katherine Grainger is Chair of UK Sport and a five-time Olympic medallist.

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