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   Inside Out - North East: Monday October 25, 2004

HANDING ON THE BATON

Tanni Grey Thompson in training
Dedication and determination keep Tanni driven

When ordinary mortals among us are propping up our feet on the dog and supping a cup of hot tea, there are a few dedicated, and some would say obsessed, athletes going through purgatory.

Tanni Grey Thompson is one such person.

It’s October, the drizzle is hovering, and Redcar is not exactly inviting.

The wheels are turning, the hands are sore and the heart is racing.

But Tanni’s tenacity ensures that pain barriers are broken time and time again – this is training at its most grueling.

Tanni has four more years of pushing her endurance to the limits, in preparation for the next Paralympics in Beijing.

That’s if she decides not to retire.

But before she makes that decision, she promises to take a long hard look at herself.

Success is golden

Tanni's gold medals
The results of endless lonely day's training

Tanni’s training regime was hard, long and challenging on the run up to the Athens Games.

She pushed herself through thousands of lung-busting miles.

There were no concessions and none expected, her sport coming first, second and third every time.

“In this game,” she says, “you need to be extremely motivated. She is.

But for Tanni, and all athletes of her calibre, it’s the sweet smell of success that drives them on.

She came away from the Athens Olympic Stadium with two titles that added to the astounding collection of 11 gold medals, four silver and a bronze from five Paralympics.

Not all glory

Ian Grey Thompson
High-profile campaigns have highlighted access issues

The plans for these Olympics took a knock when she failed in the 800 metres.

But those painful days of training in the North East paid off.

Back at home, with her husband Ian, who is also her fiercest critic, she reflects on the highs and lows of Athens.

"Failure was the ultimate test of willpower,"she says, "I learnt so much about myself in the days that followed."

Ian was more critical, saying, "It was better to have a shock. Seventh is actually better than second - if you're not going to win, what's the point?"

"Thing is," Ian continues, "after the 800 metres, you hear people out there saying 'it's all over, finished and you're only here for the experience'."

The champ returns

"I had one more realistic chance of gold," she recalls, "If I got it, it would make me Britain’s most successful Paralympian.”

The resulting gold secured her place in athletics history.

"She's just a phenomenal athlete," says BBC pundit and former world champion hurdler Colin Jackson.

"What she's achieved through the ranks and through her age group is just huge.

"I think Tanni herself will say, 'Who's going to replace me'? That's what she will be looking forward to now."

To even break sweat with that level of success, can only be the result of one thing – obsession.

Tanni admits that attitude drives not only her, but her husband Ian.

She says, "I think people look at us and think were obsessed.

"When I found out I was pregnant, the first thing Ian said to me was, 'That's fantastic, but you'll be back in training for the Commonwealth Games'."

Tanni on the blocks
Tanni is always ready for the challenge

It’s this obsession that has created what seems to be a new future for Tanni too.

She is to work part-time for UK Athletics as Assistant Head of "Programme for the Disability World Class Potential Plan".

This offshoot of UK Athletics, is seeking to identify up to 30 athletes who will form the basis of the GB Paralympic Athletics Team for Beijing in 2008.

Twenty-four young athletes aged between 13 and 19 years-old, have already been identified as being talented at this year’s Disability Sport England Junior Championships.

The athletes undertook talent tests and learnt about how the Disability World Class Potential Plan operates and the standards that they need to achieve to become part of the programme.

Tanni will give the same 110% to the future success of others on the track, as she has to herself.

Her new boss Brian Scobie says, "Tanni is an icon of what can be achieved in disability athletics and her input will be invaluable."

Tanni shares the vision for the future of her sport. "We need to make sure there's a lot of talent coming through in the future,"she says.

"This Games (Athens Olympics) has been tough. It's a massive challenge to us now, and with so many new countries, it’s had a big impact."

Sarah Loughran
“To be the best, you need to learn from the best”
Sarah Loughran

Handing on the baton

There are many young budding athletes around the country, but one real paralympian hope also lives in the North East.

Sarah Loughran is already a National Record Holder for wheelchair athletes (under 20) in the 100, 200 and 400 metres.

Her training with Tanni 'the best' Grey Thompson should prove fruitful, and already she has sights on Beijing in 2008.

But she has to combine her rigorous training schedule with her studies at Teesside University, and her degree course in Television Production.

Enthusing on her future prospects, Sarah says, "Tanni thinks I have a lot of potential, and it's really flattering to hear that from someone as successful as her.

"It makes me want to work even harder. I have to prove that Tanni's not lying to people!

Tanni Grey Thompson
For now, the training goes on, and on

"Tanni's husband, Ian, has a saying, 'Every day is a good day to die'.

"It basically means that every time you train you have to push yourself and put in 100%. It often gets said before a race as well and it really spurs me on."

It's this sort of commitment that has taken Tanni where she is at the moment, and will, under her mentorship, take others in the future.

Tanni's medal haul says it all…

  • Athens, 2004: Gold 100m, 400m
  • Sydney, 2000: Gold 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m
  • Atlanta, 1996: Gold 800m (WR) Silver 100m, 200m, 400m
  • Barcelona, 1992: Gold 100m (WR) 200m, 400m (WR), 800m Silver 4x100m
  • Seoul, 1988: Bronze 400m
See also ...

On the rest of Inside Out
Marathon venture
Football injuries

On bbc.co.uk
Disability sport
Athens advances disability sport
Athens medals table
Paralymics – Athens

On the rest of the web
ParalympicsGB
International Paralympic Committee
Athens 2004-10-23

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