Wales

Wales' road to Rio Olympics and Paralympics

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The Olympics and Paralympics were golden games for Wales' sportsmen and women at London 2012.

Welsh athletes clinched seven medals - their largest ever overall haul - while Wales' paralympians won 14, equalling their previous record.

Four years later, and with the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro about to get under way, can the Welsh athletes exceed expectations at this year's Games in Brazil?

For Sarah Powell, the chief executive of Sport Wales, the nation is experiencing an "era of sporting success".

Gareth Bale and his teammates made history after reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and Powell believes Rio is another opportunity for Welsh athletes to show their ability to the world.

"Welsh sport has shown that it can inspire a nation. All the athletes should be proud of their selection and the dedication they have put in," she said.

"The sacrifices they have made, along with their families, their partners, it really is an opportunity for them to show what they can achieve.

"These athletes are proud to be part of Team GB but they are also proud for their home nation, and they will certainly want to come back with a medal for Wales."

Image copyright Sport Wales
Image caption Sarah Powell: 'If they don't win a medal, ultimately that is sport'

Rather than measuring success in terms of medals however, Ms Powell said the athletes should be praised for making the cut "at the highest level".

"Everybody who has got there is at the top of their game and they have been selected for the Olympics because of their ability and if they don't win a medal, ultimately that is sport," she said.

Jon Morgan, Disability Sport Wales' executive director, believes the same for the Welsh paralympians.

"When you think of Wales as a small nation and the people who are going out, it is their chance to shine. They have worked incredibly hard to get to the Games," he said.

"Great Britain sets some of the highest standards in the world, so to get a place in the team is just fantastic, and you go with a genuine chance of medalling."

'Strength and depth'

Sport Wales has previously said it has a rolling medal target of six to 10 medals across two Olympic Games cycles while Disability Sport Wales is aiming for 20 to 30 medals over two Games.

For many Welsh athletes, it is not the first time they have qualified and they will all want another taste of success.

Four of Wales' seven Olympics medallists four years ago are competing again and for three of them - cyclist Geraint Thomas, shooter Elena Allen and triathlete Helen Jenkins - it is their third Olympic Games.

Thomas is bidding to become Wales' most successful Olympic athlete for 96 years as he aims for his third successive Olympic gold at Rio, while Taekwondo's 57kg class world number one Jade Jones is hoping to defend her title.

Defending titles

"This is a world class event and for them to have been selected for another Olympics is testament to their ability but also to how they have stayed in the sport system for so long," Powell said.

"We are competing in 11 sports which shows we are not just a nation that competes in one or two sports; there is representation across many fields.

"It is that strength and depth we are bringing to Rio."

The Welsh Paralympic team also sports a number of veteran competitors, including sailor Steve Thomas and discus thrower Beverley Jones.

And London 2012 Paralympic gold medallist Aled Davies is looking for that top spot on the podium in shot put.

Image copyright Sportingwales/Ian Cook
Image caption Rhys Jones won a bronze medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow

To help the athletes deal with nerves, they have been training to loud music in preparation for the din and roar of the crowd. It is a strategy designed to keep them focused.

And confidence seems to be running high among the Welsh Paralympic athletes.

Rhys Jones, 22, from Cardiff, said he was "feeling good" ahead of competing in the T37 sprint.

"Hopefully this is my time to shine. Every event from London has been harder and harder to qualify for," he said.

"It is all about what happens on the day, some things go out of the window, you can be the best one there but anything can happen.

"The harder work will start now, it is all about focusing on what you have been doing."

Well wishes

Discus thrower Sabrina Fortune, 19, from Flintshire, is the youngest competitor in the Welsh Paralympic contingent but she is relishing the experience.

"I am feeling confident, but a bit nervous as there are going to be so many people there," she said.

"It is very exciting, everyone at home is willing me to do well. I am from a small town and everyone wants to put up banners.

"I have got so many people around me that want to help. Even our neighbours want me to do well."

Image copyright Steve Pope
Image caption Sabrina Fortune finished in fourth place in her first World Championships at Doha last year

While all eyes are now firmly fixed on the global sporting event of the year, Sport Wales and Disability Sport Wales are already looking beyond success in Rio.

"This is just a moment in time for us. It is an important moment, but it is a moment," Morgan said.

"Disability Sports Wales is already looking forward in two years to the Commonwealth Games, in four years to Tokyo and six years to Durban.

"We are constantly looking to see who will be in the next generation."

Powell added: "It's not just about Rio, it's also about continuing the success, about creating the next generation of athletes.

"There are Olympic stars in this group, and there will be Olympic stars behind them."

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