Wales

London 2012: Paralympic planning by disability academy for Rio 2016

Gerwyn Owen
Image caption Gerwyn Owen came to Disability Sport Wales as a swimming manager initially

As far as Gerwyn Owen is concerned, the London 2012 Paralympics are already over.

The manager of Disability Sport Wales' academy has done his part to give Wales its best shot of beating the Beijing tally of 14 Welsh Paralympic medals.

The Welsh athletes who have passed through the academy will have received help through specialist squads, individual coaching and funding, and been sent on their way to the UK-wide organisations such as UK Athletics and British Cycling which will shepherd them through the final countdown to the Games this summer.

The former swimming coach is now looking ahead to the 2016 Rio Paralympics and, rather closer to home, the Commonwealth Games up the road in Glasgow in 2014.

"My focus in the academy isn't on London any more" he explained. Our [current] academy members are the one's we'd be targeting for Rio."

Mr Owen is justifiably proud of the fact that the Welsh athletes in Team GB at Beijing's Paralympics in 2008 made up 16% of the team (the Welsh are only 5% of the total UK population) and won 25% of the medals.

He says the Welsh squad's success is founded on the sporting model that Disability Sport Wales has promoted, of providing a wide range of opportunities for disability sport in the community then homing in on those who prove to have talent and nurturing it.

Image caption The academy was set up by DSW in 2006

The statistics seem to bear him out. In 2002, there were 1,500 community sporting opportunities for disabled people in Wales. Today that figure stands at nearly 1m, and the Welsh disability model is being studied by countries such as Australia.

Mr Owen said London winning the Olympic games bid in 2005 was the driver for setting up the academy in 2006 with the objective of significantly increasing the pool of elite disabled athletes who would be contenders for the Paralympics. He became manager a year later.

He puts the aim succinctly: "Identify talented athletes and provide them with opportunities to get themselves into Team GB.

"We do cover Paralympic sport, but we also support the Deaflympics [Olympic-style competition for deaf athletes] and learning disabled world titles too."

'Things are looking good'

The number of athletes under the academy's control can vary from about 40 to 80, with 50 currently in the system.

Image caption Aled Davies is one of the athletes to come through the academy

The support they receive will be tailored to their needs. For some, there will be squads to join which will travel together to competitions.

Specialist coaches will be provided on a group or individual basis, as well as assistance with fitness training and funding, or working with partners in charities to provide extra financial assistance or equipment.

Mr Owen said 49 Welsh athletes who had been through the system were currently in the world-class programmes run by the UK-wide umbrella organisations for their particular sports.

The achievements in the community and elite divisions seem all the more impressive given the total budget for a year is £1m, which has to pay for 22 local authority disability officers and community programmes, as well as providing funding for the academy, performance and training programmes.

One of the targets set by DSW was to improve on both the number of Welsh athletes at the last games (31) and the number of medals (14).

He has high hopes for his former proteges this summer. "At the moment things are looking good. Last year at the world championships, Welsh athletes won 25 medals."

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