Paralympics 2012: Brits face stiff test, says Grey-Thompson

Tanni Grey-Thompson

2012 Paralympics

Wednesday, 29 August to Sunday 9 September
Extensive daily coverage across 5 live, 5 live sports extra and the BBC Sport website

Britain may have the benefit of competing at home but Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson expects the host nation to find it harder than ever to win medals when the Paralympics get under way in London this week.

Grey-Thompson, GB's most successful Paralympian of the modern era, says other countries are better prepared than they have been before and thinks envy of the home team's funding will give them an extra incentive when the action starts on Thursday.

"Every overseas Paralympian wants to beat a British Paralympian on home soil," said the 11-time wheelchair racing gold medallist.

"Most countries are envious of the support and funding our athletes enjoy but ParalympicsGB have been preparing well and will give everything they can to win all the medals they can."

Britain finished second in the medals table at the 2008 Games in Beijing, winning 42 golds, 29 silvers and 31 bronzes. China were top with 211 medals, of which 89 were gold.

UK Sport and the British Paralympic Association have set a minimum target of 103 medals this time from at least 12 sports, but Grey-Thompson thinks that feat will be hard to emulate, and concedes it is virtually impossible to beat China.

"There are 16 new countries taking part this time but Britain has hung on in there," she said. "In the early years, when the Paralympics was not a worldwide sporting event, it was easier to be higher up the medal table but second place is still realistic."

About 4,200 athletes from 166 countries - 19 more than Beijing - are set to take part in what is expected to be the first sell-out Games, with more than 2.4 million tickets sold already, 500,000 of those to overseas visitors.

"We've tried to get as many people in as we reasonably can," said London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton. "This is a wonderful illustration of how the British public have said 'we love the Paralympics and want to be part of it'."

The Paralympics run until 9 September, with events in 20 sports taking place over 11 days of competition.

"I'm expecting the London Games to be the best Paralympics we have ever seen," added Grey-Thompson, who is one of BBC Radio 5 live's expert summarisers at the event.

"I think this is the time that the Paralympics will go from something that happens after the Olympics to being a massive worldwide sporting spectacle."

The GB team will be the largest ever at almost 300 athletes and includes Beijing gold medallists Ellie Simmonds, Dave Weir, Sarah Storey and Lee Pearson, who could break the gold medal tally of Grey-Thompson and swimmer Dave Roberts in London.

Equestrian star Pearson already has nine golds, winning three at each of the last three Games.

Swimmer Simmonds, wheelchair athlete Weir and cyclist Storey are also expected to add to their gold-medal tally in London.

Lee Pearson has won nine Paralympic gold medals
Pearson has won nine Paralympic gold medals

Marc Woods, a 12-time Paralympic swimming medallist, believes the Games can help have a positive impact on the way disability is perceived.

"As a sports person, I want to see more people coming to sport but actually what I'd like is for people to see disability in a different way," said the 5 live pundit.

"What the Paralympics is very good at is getting people to focus on what they can do, rather than what they can't do."

Jeremy Hunt, the secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport, agrees.

"For many Brits, this will be the first time they have seen the Paralympic Games at all," he said. "It will be a very big moment to really change perceptions and that will be something to be proud of."

BBC Radio 5 live and Radio 5 live sports extra will be the home of all the major commentary action during the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

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