Britain’s Paralympic Greats – Anne Dunham

Labour Party

Anne Dunham is one of the most successful British equestrian to have competed at the Paralympics.

Anne’s love of horses began when she was very young and worked at a local stable in her spare time and, by the age of 16, she was running a yard of 80 horses at weekends. She had “always wanted to compete” but while she was able to ride the horses in the stables it was their owners who competed with them.

At the age of 27 Anne was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and has used a wheelchair since the age of 30.

It was not until she turned 40, when her husband sold his business, that she was able to buy a horse and begin to compete.

Anne first competed at the Paralympics competing on her horse Doodlebug in dressage events at the 1996 Atlanta Games.  She won a bronze medal in the individual mixed Kur trot grade II, and gold in the open team event.  In the individual mixed dressage grade II she finished just outside of the medals in fourth position.

Anne’s success continued at the 2000 Summer Paralympics, in Sydney, Dunham was part of the team that successfully defended their title in the open team dressage event. In the individual events at the games she finished fifth.  The 2004 Athens Games were Anne’s third Paralympic appearance. As part of a team with Lee Pearson, Debbie Criddle and Nicola Tustain she won her third consecutive gold medal in the team dressage.

But in her fourth Paralympics in 2008 Anne, then aged 59, won her first individual gold, competing on her horse Teddy Edwards.  She also won silver in freestyle.

In recognition of her achievements Anne was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2009 New Year Honours.

Britain’s Paralympic Hopefuls – Shelly Woods

Labour Party

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

Labour Party

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 Paralympic Hopefuls – Eleanor Simmonds

Labour Party

It seems wrong to call Eleanor Simmonds a hopeful given everything she has achieved already; having already won two gold medals in swimming at the Beijing Paralympics when only 13 years old.

Eleanor began swimming at age four and entered her first competition just four years later. After watching the 2004 Paralympic Games on television, Eleanor was inspired to take her sport to an elite level and stepped up her training with the aim of qualifying for Beijing 2008.

She achieved this and, competing in S6 disability category, Eleanor swam in the 50 m, 100 m and 400 m freestyle, 50 m butterfly, and 200 m individual medley.  Despite Beijing being her first games and, at 13, being the youngest athlete in the competition, she went on to win gold in both the 100 m freestyle and 400 m freestyle.

This incredible achievement gained wide recognition and in 2008 Eleanor was awarded the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year.  Not only that, but a year later she made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). At 14 she was the youngest person to have ever received this honour.

Eleanor has not rested much since winning in Beijing and has gone on to take ten gold medals at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Swimming World Championships in 2009 and 2010, five golds at the IPC European Championships, and a gold at the Paralympic world cup

Eleanor might be one of Britain’s best hopes winning, not just one, but a number of gold medals at this summer’s games.  She says that she hates to lose, but looking at her career, you don’t imagine it’s much of a problem for her.

Britain’s Paralympic Greats – Margaret Maughan

Labour Party

Margaret Maughan has the impressive distinction of winning Britain’s first Paralympic Gold medal at the inaugural Paralympic Games in Rome 1960 in Archery. She went on to compete in four further Paralympic Games, winning a number of further medals.

It was in Malawi that Margaret first encountered archery, watching ‘an eccentric Englishman’ firing arrows from a bow on a lush, green golf course in 1959.  She had no idea at this point that she would be creating British history doing something very similar 12 months later.

Margaret had been working as a teacher in Nyasaland, now Malawi, the landlocked country in south-east Africa, when she was involved in a very serious car crash.  The Foreign Office transported her back to the UK for further treatment, where she was admitted into the Stoke Mandeville hospital, the spiritual home of the Paralympic movement, specialising in spinal injuries for injured soldiers from the Second World War.

Margaret started archery as part of a gym session with her physiotherapist.  She said that the “treatment was centred around being as active as you could possibly be.”

Speaking to Channel 4 in the build-up to this years Paralympic games in London, she discussed her journey to becoming Britain’s first gold medalists:

“When you first become paralysed you lose your balance, you can’t feel how you are sitting.  The archery was brilliant because it made you sit up straight in your wheelchair, you had to spread your arms out and strengthen your shoulders. I enjoyed it and I was quite good at it.  I started purely for rehabilitation. I was given a bow and arrows when I left hospital and returned to my family in Lancashire. I found an archery club in Preston and they were very kind to me, they never had a member in a wheelchair before. I did it more as a social thing to get to know people.”

“I didn’t realise I was going to Rome, but I got this letter inviting me to compete in archery and swimming, for which I was very bad at. But we had a go at everything in those days.  In the space of 12 months, I was doing archery in the hospital to winning gold in Rome. I didn’t think I had made history, I knew I had won the first British medal for the team. We won 25 golds in total that year with 70 participants.” 

Margaret won a further two Paralympic gold medals, along with two silvers, at the Tel Aviv (68), Heidelberg(72), Toronto (76) and Arnhem (80) Games in dartchery (a combination of darts and archery) as well as lawn bowls.

Margaret will be attending this summer’s games and will be an inspirational figure for all the young athletes competing for Team GB.

Channel 4 Unveils Coverage of the London 2012 Paralympic Games

Labour Party


When Channel 4 won the bid to host the London 2012 Paralympic Games I’m sure there were some who thought it a curious decision.

But yesterday I was invited to a briefing in which the channel outlined ambitious and exciting plans which boast the most extensive coverage of the Paralympic Games which has ever been broadcast in the UK.

The channel will have more than 150 hours of all day coverage and is investing significant resources into its coverage.

The sporting event is to be hosted by a team of experienced sports journalists including former Olympian Jonathan Edwards and broadcaster Kelly Cates.

In addition, half the presenters and reporters in the Channel 4 line-up will be disabled; this includes eight new faces that were drawn from a nationwide talent search. The team were discovered in 2010 when Channel 4 began its search for disabled talent. It committed £500,000 to the search with the aim to bring experienced coverage to a mainstream audience.

We were introduced to the new line up yesterday, and they were bursting with enthusiasm. But what also struck me was that they seemed to already have the experience and knowledge of many seasoned reporters who have been doing this for many many years. The new reporters and presenters are: Daraine Mulvihill, Arthur Williams, Martin Dougan, Liam Holt, Rachel Latham, Jordan Jarrett-Bryan, Alex Brooker and Diana Man.

I’m excited about and looking forward to the Paralympic Games. Channel 4’s investment is so important because finally we will have proper, mainstream reporting of a massive sporting event which has been lacking in quality coverage for far too long.

Britain’s Olympic Hopefuls – Heather Frederiksen

Labour Party

This week British women Olympians featutes Heather Frederiksen. Heather is already a very successful British Paralympian and is expected to carry on that success at this summer’s games in London.

After a serious accident in 2004 that left Helen with limited use of right arm and leg it was clear that she would need to use a wheelchair.  At the time, the doctors had told Helen that she would never swim again.  Before that point, Helen had won both the British 10 km Open Water Championship and 4.5 km British Grand Prix on the same day.

Despite this, in 2006, whilst watching television coverage of the swimming events at the Commonwealth Games, in Melbourne, that Helen decided she wanted to swim again. After her Paralympic success she said of the experience, “I saw Joanne Jackson win the gold in the 400 m and I just said to myself, ‘I’m not ready to finish. I’ll finish when I want to finish, not when someone else tells me to’.

Helen now competes in the S8 (backstroke and freestyle), SB7 (breaststroke) and SM8 (medley) classifications. Her first senior swim meet came at the 2007 German Open, in Berlin.

In her first appearance at the British Championships in 2008 Helen won two gold and two silver medals from her six events and set a number of national records. At the 2008 Summer Paralympics, in Beijing, she competed in five events and won four medals. Her first medal, a silver in the women’s 100 m freestyle – S8 final on 8 September, was followed two days later by gold in the women’s 100 m backstroke – S8 in a new IPC world record time of one minute 16.74 seconds. Helen won bronze in the 200 m individual medley and her final medal of the games came with a silver in the 400 m freestyle. In her final event, the 50 m freestyle, she reached the final but finished in 7th position.

Amazingly Helen holds a number of different records in addition to her 100 m backstroke world record.  She is also the current holder of the 50m freestyle world record, the 100m freestyle world record, the 200m freestyle world record and the 400m freestyle world record, European records in the 50m, 100m, 200m, 400 m freestyle, 100 m butterfly, 100m backstroke S8 classifications, and holds the British record in a total of six different events.

Britain’s Paralympic Greats – Baroness Grey-Thompson MBE

Labour Party

Britain’s best known Paralympic athlete, Tanni Grey-Thompson, won her first Olympic medal in the Seoul Games of 1988. In Seoul, at the age of 19 – a mere four years after the start of her athletics career at the Junior National Games for Wales – Tanni took home a bronze medal in the 400m wheelchair.  Tanni was born with spina bifida and has used a wheelchair since the age of seven. 

Whilst Tanni has a passion for wheelchair basketball she is more widely known for her successes in wheelchair racing in which she holds a massive 16 Paralympic medals.

On top of her Paralympic success, Tanni has taken home 13 World Championship medals. She has broken World Records in the 100 metre and 800 metres and is currently the European and British Record holder for 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m. Tanni has also won the London Wheelchair Marathon on six occasions. She is without doubt one of the most successful British athletes of all time.

Her sporting prowess has also been recognised off the track. In 1992 she was selected as the Times sports woman of the year and in 2000 she was recognised as BBC sports personality of the year. She has been recognised at the Pride of Britain Awards twice, in 2001 for her outstanding sporting achievements and again in 2005 for her part in the successful London 2012 Olympics bid team. Tanni has also been selected for the Queens Honours several times, being made an MBE, OBE and Dame. In 2010 she was appointed to the House of Lords as a cross bench peer.

As a member of the House of Lords, Baroness Grey-Thompson has spoken out against the shocking measures proposed by the coalition’s much criticised Welfare Reform Bill.  She has been particularly vocal about the potentially negative effect that changes to the Disability Living Allowance would bring about.  She is passionately against people with disabilities becoming ‘ghettoised’.

Through her spectacular achievements Tanni Grey-Thompson acts as a guiding light in the fight against gender and disability stereotyping. Her high profile success helps to break many of the stigmas associated with disability.  

Tanni retired from athletics in 2007. Today Tanni is involved in a number of charities which work to break down the barriers to children to take part in sports.  She is Chair of the Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport, and was named as an International Inspiration Ambassador in 2009. She is also a coach and works as a sports commentator for the BBC.

Culture Secretary rumoured to cut funding for the Paralympic Games

Labour Party

Are there no depths to which the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will not sink?

Hard on the heels of his decision to abolish the UK Film Council, rumours abound that Jeremy Hunt will cut funding to the Paralympic Games.  Surely this is the cruellest cut of all, and totally unjustified.

The Evening Standard Londoners’ Diary picked up on the story and quoted me: 

Golden girl joins the 2012 cuts debate

Rumours of impending cuts to the Paralympic Games in 2012 have not gone down well with Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington, pictured. “London getting the Olympics and Paralympics is such a huge thing that it’d be a shame if they had to cut back,” she told me at the premiere last night of Salt. Nor is London MEP Mary Honeyball happy. “If these rumours are true, and the Department for Culture Media and Sport have not denied them, I suspect the minister will find it hard to justify this move,” she says. “I’m sure Jeremy Hunt will face a backlash if this is announced. But the Culture Secretary fails to see the benefit [of the Olympic legacy], having himself reportedly said, ‘We’ve always had real concerns about the lack of a legacy for the whole country’.”