Helena Lucas – Gold Medal Profile

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Helena Lucas holds the impressive distinction of being the first Brit ever to take a gold in the sailing events at the Paralympics.

Helena suffers from a condition that affects both her hands.  Despite this, she initially focused on competing in the 470 class in non-disabled competition, attempting to qualify to compete for Great Britain at both the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2004 Athens Games. After 2004 she switched to sailing in the 2.4mR class, a Paralympic event contested in a single-person keelboat.  In 2006 she stood in for Shirley Robertson as a member of the British crew in the Yngling event at a test event for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China; competing alongside Annie Lush and Lucy MacGregor, she won a silver medal.

It was a slightly strange way that Helena ended up winning her gold.  It was not quite the way the British sailing team had imagined winning its first ever Paralympic medals. A dearth of wind on the Dorset coast meant the team spent the final hours of the six-day regatta holed up in the GB rather than charging for the finishing line in Portland Harbour.

Not that Helena was too worried. She was leading the standings and so took gold in the single-person 2.4mR, a huge achievement in the trickiest boat and probably the most competitive of the three Paralympic classes. Helena, the only woman in the 2.4 fleet, went into the final day with a nine-point cushion after a brilliant regatta.

Helena was one of the last sailors to be picked for London 2012 and said there was a “huge sense of relief” that the years of hard work had paid off.

The medals are a vindication of the British sailing team’s all-encompassing approach. There was soul-searching after the Paralympic sailors returned from Beijing empty-handed. Since then the Paralympic sailors have lived and trained cheek by jowl with the Olympic squad. Working alongside competitors such as the four-times gold medallist Ben Ainslie has inspired the six Paralympic sailors – the same group that failed in Beijing – on to greater heights.

“All the Olympic guys have been pushing us all the way,” Helena said. “It’s been really close racing and great fun to be out there performing on home waters. It’s amazing for Paralympic sailing.” She said she had forgotten that the rest of the fleet were men. “I am so used to going up against the guys, I forget.”

Female British Gold Medalists – Sarah Storey

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After my e-book before the summer with profiles of British female athletes competing in London, I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate those women who achieved gold medals.  Of course it wasn’t just about medals this summer; all of our athletes were outstanding, and London as a whole, especially those working on the games, deserves a huge amount of credit for what was achieved.  Nevertheless I thought I would start with a profile of paralympic cyclist, Sarah Storey.

Sarah Storey joined the ranks of Britain’s greatest ever Paralympians in London this summer, winning her fourth cycling gold medal of the London Games in the women’s road race in an utterly imperious ride that saw her finish more than seven minutes ahead of her closest rival.

So dominant was the 34-year-old from Cheshire in the 64km race that by the second lap of the Brands Hatch course, having left the women’s field far behind her, she caught and passed the peloton of the men’s road race, which had started two minutes earlier.

Her victory, the 11th gold of a career spanning six Paralympic Games, equals the modern-era records of wheelchair racer Tanni Grey-Thompson and swimmer Dave Roberts. But the cyclist’s tally is all the more remarkable given that she began her Paralympics career, as a 14-year-old at the Barcelona Games, as a swimmer, winning two golds and three silvers in her debut appearance in 1992. London is her second Games competing as a cyclist – she won double gold in Beijing in her track and time trial debut.

Speaking immediately after the race, Storey said she was “just so chuffed” to have matched in the road racing the two golds she won in the velodrome, after taking time trial gold with an almost equally comfortable.

Asked about equalling the records of Roberts and Grey-Thompson, Storey said: “To be even on the same page … as Tanni, but to have won 11 and made today a clean sweep for this week is just a dream come true. I can’t thank enough people. I’m so proud to be part of such an amazing team and I’m just so pleased to be finished now as well.”

Britain’s Paralympic Greats – Nyree Kindred

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Nyree Kindred, nee Lewis, is one of Britain’s most successful paralympians and will be competing again at this summer’s games as a swimmer.

Nyree took up swimming at the age of 5, after she was taken to a swimming pool by her aunt  and encouraged her to give the sport a go. Nyree quickly developed a taste for the fast-pace competition and was soon taking part in elite level races. She was selected for the national team in 1999.

Nyree has a form of cerebral palsy and therefore competes in the S6 (butterfly, backstroke, freestyle), SM6 (medley) and SB5 (breaststroke) classifications.

Nyree began her fantastic Paralympic career at the 2000 Games in Sydney, where she amazingly won three medals; two silver and a bronze. She enjoyed further success at the 2004 Summer Paralympics, where she won the gold medal in the S6 100 metres backstroke event, in a new Paralympic record time of 1:32.03.

She followed this up with another gold in the 4×50 m medley 20 pts relay, silver medals in both the 100 m breaststroke SB5 and 200 m SM6 individual medley, and a bronze in the 400 m freestyle S6.

Nyree didn’t enjoy the same level of success at the Beijing Paralympic games.  In the 100 metres S6 backstroke she was, surprisingly, beaten into second place by Dutch swimmer Mirjam de Koning-Peper. She later explained her defeat by saying : “My legs were spasming, but to be honest, there are no excuses for that, … I should have gone quicker but it just wasn’t there tonight”.

In addition to this medal winning performance Kindred also reached the finals of the 100 m breaststroke SB5 (finishing 4th), 200 m SM6 individual medley (finishing 6th) and 400 m freestyle S6 (finishing 6th).

Nyree’s husband is fellow British Paralympic- the gold medal winning swimmer Sascha Kindred. Together the pair are known as the ‘golden couple’ of British disability swimming.  They will both be swimming for Britain this summer and I’m sure both will be working hard to bring home the gold for Britain.

Britain’s Paralympic Hopefuls – Shelly Woods

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This week’s post in the series on women Olympians features Shelly Woods. Shelley is one of Britain’s best athletes in the long distance wheelchair category and will be competing this summer in the London 2012 Paralympics.

Shelly damaged her spinal cord after falling from a tree aged 11 and was left paralysed from the waist down.  Having been an incredibly active child, her parents encouraged her to find a new activity to keep her occupied. Shelly tried out a range of paralympic sports such as wheelchair basketball, swimming and table tennis before settling on athletics. Eventually she was spotted by an athletics scout at 15 and was invited to train at a national level.

Shelly has enjoyed success as a wheelchair athlete from the very beginning.  She won the Great North Run in 2005, setting a new British record for the half-marathon in the process. She is also the national record holder over 5,000 metres and won silver medals in her very first London Marathon in 2005 and again in 2006, but in 2007 Shelly won in a record time of 1:50:41.

Naturally Shelly was called to represent Team GB at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, and she enjoyed a very successful tournament.  She won a bronze medal in the 5,000 metres wheelchair final. Having originally been awarded silver for coming second on 8 September, a controversial protest arising from a multiple collision (six athletes crashed) in the final straight led to the race being re-staged four days later.  Shelly later won a silver medal in the 1500m, and finsihed in a strong position, beating Switzerland’s Edith Hunkeler at the line.

This summer will give Shelly the opportunity to improve on her fantastic achievements in Beijing.  I’m sure we will be seeing her on the podium once again.

Britain’s Paralympic Greats – Sarah Storey

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Sarah Joanne Storey, née Bailey has an impressive array of medals to her name in an impressive array of sports.

Sarah (then known as Sarah Bailey) began her paralympic career as a swimmer, winning two golds, three silvers and a bronze in Barcelona in 1992 at 14. She continued swimming in the next three Paralympic Games before switching to cycling in 2005.

At the 2008 Paralympic Games, her fifth, Storey won the individual pursuit – in a time that would have been in the top eight at the Olympic final – and the road time trial.

She also competes against able-bodied athletes and won the 3 km national track pursuit championship in 2008, eight days after taking the Paralympic title, and defended her title in 2009.

She qualified to join the England team for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, where she was “the first disabled cyclist to compete for England at the Commonwealth Games”, against fully able-bodied cyclists.  She was also the second paralympic athlete overall competing for England at the Games, following archer Danielle Brown earlier in Delhi.

Due to her impressive achievements in disabled sport, Sarah was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire in the 1998 New Year Honours.  And following her success at the Beijing games was promoted to Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

Britain’s Olympic Hopefuls – Gemma Spofforth

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Continuing with my series of profiles of British women at the Olympics, today I am writing about one of our greatest hopes for a medal this summer, the backstroke swimmer Gemma Spofforth.

Gemma was born in Shoreham-by-Sea, England.  A keen water baby, she began swimming at the age of three after encouragement from her parents. Her mother wanted her to get a head start in the pool so told her swimming teachers that she was two years older in order to get her in to a better class.

Gemma overcame pancreatitis in 2005, taking a year in and out of the water not sure whether or not to go on with swimming.  In the end she decided to continue and made her decision on where to attend university on whether or not she could continue swimming.

Gemma represented Great Britainat the 2008 Summer Olympics coming fourth in the 100-metre and ninth in the 200-metre backstroke swimming events.  She was very frustrated though in the 100-metre, as she missed out on an medal by just 0.04 seconds, leaving her fourth behind the USA’s Margaret Hoelzer.

At the 2009 World Aquatic Championships in Rome, she took the gold medal in the 100 metre backstroke, in a world record time of 58.12 seconds. Spofforth broke the 100-metre backstroke world record on her way to winning her first world title in Rome, her time of 58.12 erased previous record holder Anastasia Zuyeva time of 58.48 set in the semi finals of the event.

Gemma accepted an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville, where she enjoyed a huge amount of success, swimming with the Florida Gators swimming and diving team in National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) competition.

This summer will give Gemma the chance to prove herself and earn the Olympic medal she deserves.  She has mentioned how much she hates coming fourth because she hears it in her name; Spofforth.  I’m sure that will just be extra motivation for her to push on and claim her medal this summer.

Britain’s Olympic Hopefuls – Helen Clitheroe

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Helen Teresa Clitheroe is this week’s featured female Olympic athlete. One of Britain’s best hopes for a medal this summer at London 2012, she will be competing in middle and long distance running.

For the Beijing Olympics, Helen achieved the Olympic A qualifying standard for the 3000 m steeplechase at the Iberoamericano meeting, in Huelva on June 13, 2008, where she finished 8th in a time of 9:43.56.  Her place in the British team for the Games was confirmed when she won the British trials in a new national record time of 9:36.98. At the Games she finished sixth in her heat and did not advance to the next round of competition, despite beating her own national record with a time of 9:29.14.

Helen completed a spell of high-altitude in Iten, Kenya and then went on to enjoy her greatest success at the Aviva International Match in January 2011, where she won the gold despite being without lottery funding for a year. At the age of 37, Helen is the eldest woman to have won the medal by four years.  Her experience and ability led to her being named Team GB captain.

She has gone from strength to strength in the last two years and goes in to London 2012 in fine form.  Helen will be the eldest competitor in athletics by quite some margin, but it her undeniable passion and commitment to her support will no doubt give her a huge boost.  As will the home crowd who will no doubt show their full support for Team GB’s captain.