GB chiefs happy with team progress after World Para-Athletics Championships

By Katie FalkinghamBBC Sport in Dubai
Great Britain's Hannah Cockcroft with her gold medal in Dubai
Hannah Cockroft with one of Great Britain's 13 gold medals from Dubai

Great Britain are in a "really good position" going into the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, says Para-athletics head coach Paula Dunn.

The team won 29 medals at the World Para-Athletics Championships in Dubai, including 13 golds, after Derek Rae won T45/46 marathon world silver in April.

UK Sport had set a target of 24 to 28 medals, but specifically in events that will be included at Tokyo 2020 - and 23 of GB's 29 medals came in those.

"I'm very content," said Dunn.

"We're in a really good position going into Tokyo."

GB were without several key names in Dubai with two-time Paralympic T44 100m champion Jonnie Peacock and 2017 T44 long jump world champion Stef Reid withdrawing from the squad through injury.

Other stars of British Para-athletics once again dominated on the world stage, with Paralympic champions Hannah Cockroft and Sophie Hahn both winning two golds while Aled Davies and Hollie Arnold again topped the podium.

There were first world titles for Maria Lyle, who won T35 100m and 200m gold, Sabrina Fortune and Jonathan Broom-Edwards, while Thomas Young, aged just 19, narrowly missed out on T38 100m gold.

"The athletes have all competed really well, we've had personal bests, seasons bests, and world records," said Dunn.

"For me, it's been a successful championships. We've reached 29 medals and in the specific Tokyo events we are just one medal down.

"I'm comfortable that we have got athletes at home who will win medals in Tokyo.

"I'm not going to get hung up on the medals, I want to focus on the athletes who are here, the ones who have stepped up in November.

"I can count the number of disappointing performances on one hand, so to me, that's a real big positive."

The championships in Dubai were the biggest World Para-Athletics Championships to have taken place in terms of participation, with more than 1,500 athletes from 122 countries competing. That comes despite the championships taking place in November, just nine months out from the Paralympics, which begin on 25 August 2020.

Fifty-one world records were broken, with China topping the medal table.

Brazil finished second with Great Britain third, and in total, 63 countries won medals.

"These were tough championships," said Dunn. "I know we can compete with the best so that is really pleasing.

"It would have been really good if it was a bit earlier, and it didn't impact on preparation for Tokyo, but in reality, it's the same for everybody. Most of our athletes took a mid-season break.

"It's always good to compete and to get a marker. We've seen most of the athletes and we know there are some fierce competitors out there, so that information is key moving on."

'This is not London and we were aware of that'

Dubai was a championships which almost had it all. World records tumbled, new athletes announced their arrival on the world stage, and there was even a rare day of rain and thunderstorms, no doubt a welcome reminder of home for the British contingent.

But one thing was missing - crowds.

After the success of the London 2017 World Para-Athletics Championships, for which more than 300,000 tickets were sold, there were fears that the Dubai edition would prove disappointing in comparison, with Davies - who won F63 shot put gold here - previously saying hosting the event in the city could prove a "a step back" for Para-sport.

Held at the 2,500-seater Dubai Club for People of Determination, located more than 10 miles from the city's tourist hotspots, the stands were rarely full; crowds made up largely of teams and families with local schoolchildren attending some morning sessions. That comes despite tickets costing just 20 UAE Dirhams (£4.23).

The total attendance of the championships was 13,500 from 30,000 tickets available. Only 15,000 tickets were put on sale to the general public, while the other 15,000 were sold to schools and National Paralympic Committees, among others.

But despite the stark differences between London and Dubai, British athletes were surprisingly positive.

"It's not been too bad to be honest," said GB co-captain Richard Whitehead. "Looking back at Doha [in 2015], that was a World Championships where there was nobody.

"At least we've had spectators, schoolkids have come and the people of the UAE have really embraced Para-sport.

"I think it's wrong not to have games in this part of the world, because you need to sprinkle some of that Paralympic magic dust all over the Middle East, and I'm sure we'll find the next generation here."

Cockroft, who won T34 100m and 800m gold in Dubai, added: "This is not London, and we were all very aware of that, but actually the support outside of the stands, everyone knows it is going on, everyone's really excited, and that's where we get the excitement."

Dubai was only awarded the championships in 2018, and despite the low numbers in attendance, Andrew Parsons, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, praised the organisers.

"[Dubai] chose to concentrate on the schools programme and the National Paralympic Committees themselves," he told BBC World Service.

"We could have had more [members of the] public, yes, but that was not the priority for the organising committee, that was just to put the event together.

"Taking everything into consideration, I think the organising committee did a great job all round."

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