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Page last updated at 11:24 GMT, Monday, 31 January 2011

Great Britain's para-athletes making progress


David Weir wins third World Paralympic gold

By Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson
BBC commentator and 11-time Paralympic gold medallist

Great Britain's successful World Paralympic Athletics Championships campaign in New Zealand finished in dramatic circumstances.

Team managers were informed at a technical meeting on Saturday night that expected road closures would not be in place, and athletes would be racing on open roads.

Because of the meeting's late finish, David Weir and Shelly Woods were informed at breakfast on Sunday morning and both chose to go to the warm-up track, but decided not to race.

Five Canadian athletes withdrew at the start line.

I just thought it was ludicrous. I didn't want to risk getting injured or getting run over

David Weir on the changes to the marathon

It was a significant blow for an otherwise well organised event, during which Great Britain's athletes produced some great performances.

In Beijing there were mixed results on the track, with the team ranked 18th in the medal table.

However, this year they finished third.

The final tally of 12 gold, 9 silver and 17 bronze medals has been the result of a major restructure in the last two years and head coach Peter Eriksson's uncompromising approach to elite performance.

There is no easy solution. In the 18 months before London 2012 there is much work to do to ensure continued success and convert bronze medals into silver and gold, but they are starting from a healthy point.

It puts Great Britain in a strong position for allocated places for 2012, and the rest of the world are now looking at the team as a real threat.

David Weir's three gold medals in the 800m, 1500m and 5000m was outstanding, along with impressive performances from established athletes and up-and-coming ones alike.

It has been a while since it has been hard to list the excellent displays because of the sheer volume of them.

Paul Blake ran some gutsy races where he showed no fear, Richard Whitehead proved himself to be an excellent athlete and Libby Clegg will have gained a huge amount of confidence from her gold-medal winning performance in the 100m.

Woods struggled with form, and although she had been very strong at the GB training camp, came in to the championships looking lacklustre.

David Weir
Weir's 5000m win was one of three successes

Not competing in the marathon may help her move forward and she needs to find her form by the London marathon in April.

On the field it showed that, in many cases, experience counts for nothing, as the youngsters Nathan Stephens, Kyron Duke, and Aled Davies led the way and showed the older athletes how to peak.

The much-hyped rivalry between Jerome Singleton and Oscar Pistorius finally lived up to expectations and the photo finish cemented what is going to be a fascinating contest in the next 18 months.

Singleton is an interesting character.

He graduated in December after studying a triple major and worked at Nasa for a while on the Mars programme.

There were rumours that he had also worked on the Hadron Collider, but with a lot of humour he said that he had only gone to look at it.

It seems a long time ago now, but the visit of Lamine Diack, president of the IAAF, was an important step forward for the IPC.

The last time Diack had watched disability sport in person was back in 2002 at the World Championships in Lille.

He talked about his promise to Sir Philip Craven, the IPC president, to attend this event, but also that there was a possibility of a closer working relationship.

If this were to happen and the IAAF was to properly support a parallel world championships, then this could be a hugely important step forward for the sport.

There have previously been demonstration events at the Olympics and other IAAF meetings, but the relationship has been tenuous.

Athletes drifted in and out, and it appeared to be a token effort at best.

The IAAF may also be able to help with marketing and sponsorship. The crowds towards the end of this event picked up, but for most of the midweek sessions it was relatively quiet.

For future competitions the timetabling also needs some tweaking.

Having the best events and most competitive races at non-peak times didn't maximise their potential. But this is where hindsight is a marvellous thing.

Overall the British team should be proud of their performance. They have laid down a marker. But it is now that the hard work really begins.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson is part of the BBC team in New Zealand. You can follow her on Twitter

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see also
Traffic fear hits wheelchair race
29 Jan 11 |  Disability Sport
Britons Blake & Woodward win gold
29 Jan 11 |  Disability Sport
Smyth to miss Paralympic Worlds
14 Dec 10 |  Athletics
Delhi champ targets world stage
30 Nov 10 |  Disability Sport
Weir claims New York Marathon win
07 Nov 10 |  Disability Sport
Miller and Jones in Worlds squad
28 Sep 10 |  Disability Sport
Reid intends to build on record
11 Aug 10 |  Disability Sport
Cup success for Olympic hopefuls
25 May 10 |  Disability Sport
GB athletics coach targets 2016
30 Jul 09 |  Disability Sport
A-Z of Paralympic classification
28 Aug 08 |  Disability Sport

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