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Last Updated: Friday, 4 November 2005, 11:17 GMT
Meet Tanni Grey Thompson
Date of Birth: 26/7/69
Place of birth: Cardiff
Education: St Cyres Comprehensive, Penarth;
Loughborough University
Dame Tanni Grey Thompson is Britain's most successful wheelchair athlete.

She was born with spina bifida and is paralysed from the waist down.

Tanni's first big achievement came when she represented Wales in the Junior National Games aged 15.

Her massive trophy haul now includes 11 Paralympic gold medals after victories in the T53 100m and T53 400m in Athens.

She was named a Dame in the New Year's Honours List, adding to her MBE in 1993 and the OBE she was awarded in 1999.

BBC Sport quizzes Britain's most famous Paralympian and finds out what makes her tick.

Did you ever find it difficult to get involved in sport?

No, I just loved competing.

An early photo of Tanni Grey Thompson
Grey Thompson was a pupil at St Cyres, Penarth in Wales
And I grew up in a sporty family which made it easy for me.

I was one of those kids at school who tried every sport.

I had a go at everything. I tried swimming, archery, basketball and tennis.

Eventually I found athletics, and I've never looked back.

I think there are even more opportunities these days for kids who want to take up sport.

There are more sports clubs around and more coaching courses for people who want to coach disabled athletes.

I would say the most important thing for a young athlete starting out is to find a coach they like and get on with.

It has to be someone you can work with week in, week out, and someone you can completely trust.

For more information contact:
British Wheelchair Sports Foundation,
Sports and Events Development Manager,
Guttman Road, Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP21 9PP
Tel: 01296 395995

Who was your inspiration as a young athlete?

When I was growing up, sport for disabled people didn't get that much coverage on television.

But one of my first memories was watching fellow Welsh athlete Chris Hallam in the London Marathon.

I remember saying to my mum that I was going to do the London Marathon one day.

It was my dream to be there on the starting line with everyone else.

And if you've got that kind of dream it gives you something to aim for.

It's important to have something you can focus on or have a plan to work towards.

If you put the hard work in, you have a chance of fulfilling your dream.

If you put the hard work in, you have a chance of fulfilling your dream

You train 50 weeks a year, how on earth do you stay motivated?

My biggest motivation is the fact that I desperately want to beat my husband, who is also an athlete.

I haven't really got close to him yet though - and that makes me train even harder!

Focusing on him means I'm not getting preoccupied with any of my female rivals.

It keeps me motivated, especially through the winter when we're not competing for three months and the weather is cold and rainy.

It's a difficult time to stay motivated so having my husband there with me makes it a lot easier.

I'm also a very selfish person, in that I want to be the best I can.

I like pushing myself to the limit.

I'm very strong-minded and if I decide I want to do something, then I'll go for it.

As an athlete, it's important to have that sort of determination, but you also need to be fairly level-headed.

You need to be able to deal with all the ups and downs.

Do you have to watch what you eat?

Tanni Grey Thompson with Daley Thompson
If you want to train well and hard, then you have to eat the right food
Even though I'm a hopeless cook, I still try and look after my diet.

If you want to train well and hard, then you have to eat the right food.

That's not to say I don't have times when I eat junk food, chips and a few other things that aren't good for me.

But I do try to eat well most of the week.

I tend to eat a lot of carbohydrates - rice, pasta, potatoes and a lot of steamed vegetables.

I'm not a very good cook so I tend to stick with pasta and sauces.

My favourite is pasta with a tomato sauce, and bacon and onions mixed in.

You need to eat within half an hour of a training session and I can usually cook that and wolf it down in 15 minutes.

It's good for you and it's tasty - what more could you want.

Tanni Grey Thompson
Grey Thompson struck gold in four different events in Sydney
You swept the board on the track at the Sydney Olympics. How do you manage to cover such a variety of events - and be the best at them all?

Wheelchair athletes are very lucky.

Because we're not using any weight-bearing muscles we can cover a whole range of distances - just like cyclists.

The training I do that enables me to be a good sprinter actually enables me to be good at a marathon too.

It's great because if you're having a complete nightmare in one event, you can do something else!

I train 50 weeks of the year and that keeps me prepared for whatever distance I want to race through the season.

Out of all the distances I race, I think I probably prefer the 400m.

I've never been the best starter in the world and however hard I work on my starts, they never really seem to improve that much.

That's why the 100m is always a bit of a dodgy distance for me.

The 400m is nice because the start is not quite so crucial and you've got time to get going.

On the road I like the 10k because it's long enough to stretch you but not too long that you're absolutely exhausted at the end.

Tanni Grey Thompson
Remember to always wear a helmet and bright clothing when you're out training, because racing chairs are very low to the ground and you need to make sure you can be seen
How does a racing chair differ from a day chair?

I only have one racing chair which I train and compete in.

That usually lasts me a whole season before I need to change it.

My racing chair has three wheels and is about 6ft long.

The chair I normally sit in is more like an armchair. I could sit in it all day.

I can probably only be in my racing chair for two and a half hours before I start feeling uncomfortable.

That's why, when you're competing at a high level, it's important you have equipment that fits you.

My chair is custom built around my shape and I can only fit in it if I'm wearing one layer of lycra.

At least that ensures I don't put any weight on!

When you're new to the sport it's probably best to borrow a chair for a little while or buy a second-hand one to start off with.

New equipment is expensive and that's a good way of finding out if you like the sport and want to stick with it.

Before even thinking about racing though, the most important thing is to get fit first.

You need to have stamina to push a chair and it's so much more difficult if you're not fit.

What have been the high points of your career and have there been any low points?

Taking part in the Sydney Olympics has got to be the high point of my career.

The biggest crowd I competed in front of was 112,000 and it was an amazing atmosphere.

With hundreds of thousands of people in the crowd you wouldn't think you'd be able to see faces, but I could actually pick out the faces of people I know.

I've had quite a few low points because that is the nature of being an athlete - you can't compete well all of the time.

I'm most disappointed when I've gone to races and haven't been as prepared as I should have been.

Sometimes you don't compete well and there's nothing you can do.

You can't always win, but that's ok if you feel you did everything you could.

It's about being truthful with yourself.

Tanni Grey Thompson
I always keep a training diary
Do you have any training tips for athletes just starting out in sport?

Just be active. Go out and do some kind of physical activity four or five times a week.

I do a lot of other sports through the winter.

I play tennis and basketball and it helps me stay fit for racing.

It's very important that you get a good technique early on in whatever sport you do.

It's also important to spend the right amount of time warming up and stretching.

For wheelchair racing you've got to have incredibly flexible shoulders, so I do a lot of work on my shoulders as well as my elbows and hands.

Remember in sport you can't just train two or three weeks before an event and hope to compete well.

It's something that you have to do a little and often, especially if you're new in sport.

Train a couple of times a week and think a long time in advance.

Dame Tanni sets new sprint record
20 Jul 05 |  Disability sport
Tanni keeps mind off retirement
10 May 05 |  Disability sport
Dame Tanni receives Palace honour
22 Mar 05 |  Disability sport
Tanni honour completes great year
31 Dec 04 |  Disability sport
Tanni shines as Britain's best
28 Sep 04 |  Disability sport


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