World Para-athletics: Richard Whitehead - marathon man turned 40-year-old sprint star

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I was told I was too old for athletics - Whitehead
World Para-athletics Championships
Location: London Stadium, London Dates: Friday, 14 July - Sunday, 23 July
Coverage: Commentary on BBC Radio 5 live, BBC World Service and live updates on the BBC Sport website and app

He is a marathon world record holder, sprint world-record holder, Paralympic champion and world champion.

And, at the age of 40, Richard Whitehead isn't done yet.

"If I was beaten by a 40-year-old, I'd be pretty embarrassed," says the man who will attempt to win two gold medals at the World Para-athletics Championships, days before his 41st birthday.

"I want the other athletes to be inspired by my performances. This is who I am. I'm looking forward to seeing the podium again."

With four decades under his belt, Britain's Whitehead is the antipathy of the modern, media-trained athlete. He says what he thinks, wins races and puts on a show while doing it.

At London 2012, he stormed to victory in the T42 200m, setting a world record.

Whitehead, who has two prosthetics after being born without the lower part of his legs, has dominated the event, winning titles at the 2011, 2013 and 2015 World Championships, and at Rio 2016.

And rather than slowing down as time ticks by, he's getting faster - improving on his world record earlier this year with a time of 23.01 seconds and pursuing at least one gold medal when the World Championships begin at London Stadium on Friday.

But sprint stardom may never have occurred. Having become the fastest double-amputee marathon runner in history, he was told his classification would not feature in the long distance at his home Paralympics in 2012.

So, at the age of 35, the Nottingham athlete looked for a new, shorter challenge.

"I remember when I first had the conversation with the British Athletics performance director for the Paralympics, Peter Eriksson, and he said I was too old for athletics," said Whitehead.

"Look where I am now. It shows anything is possible."

Richard Whitehead
Whitehead's celebration as he finished the 200m in world record time was one of the iconic moments of London 2012

That conversation was before London 2012, at which he proved the doubters wrong in the same stadium where he seeks gold again on Saturday night.

"It's a stadium I'll always treasure," he said. "I have so many memories in there.

"I will always remember that buzz when I came out of the bend in the 200m final. It was like a jet engine pulling me through to the finish line."

There is also the small matter of the 100m at the World Championships, an event in which he took silver at Rio 2016, finishing behind Australia's Scott Reardon.

As a double-leg amputee, Whitehead's starts out of the blocks are slower than those of his single-amputee rival - but the sight of the Briton storming through the field in the last 20 metres and only just failing to catch Reardon was a thrilling moment at the last Paralympics.

"I think I would have retired after Rio if I had won the 100m as well," Whitehead said. "In one respect, I'm thankful to Scott for giving me another year.

"I'm quite a strong, powerful athlete and I'm having to get rid of some of that power and get more technical. So hopefully that can help me deliver in the 100m as well as the 200m."

The question about retirement follows Whitehead around wherever he goes. He has never hidden his desire to get back to marathons and the perceived wisdom is that a home World Championships would be the perfect way to finish a successful track career.

"It may be my last event - I'm non-committal," is his reply to the retirement question this time around.

"It's an important decision for me and my family. I still feel I can continue to push that world record. I'll make the decision after the games.

"Friends and family say I should keep going. But I want to finish while I'm at the top, where I can say I've given all I can. Then maybe I move into a management role to help younger athletes.

"But I've had a great innings. If it's my last race, it will be emotional. It's also a great opportunity to set that legacy and say I'm not just a Paralympian and that I've got a lot to offer."

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