IPC Athletics Grand Prix: Richard Whitehead out to impress

By Elizabeth HudsonBBC Sport
Paralympics have had 'sustained impact'

British Paralympic champion Richard Whitehead is determined to maintain his good form in Birmingham this weekend.

Whitehead, who won gold in the T42 200m at London 2012, is among a host of GB stars competing in Saturday's IPC Athletics Grand Prix final.

The Nottingham-based 36-year-old knows that the event is just one part of a busy season.

"I've been racing consistently all year, so I just want to continue that on," he told BBC Sport.

"Hopefully the conditions in Birmingham will be better than I've had at my other races this season.

"The opportunity to race in front of a home crowd is always great and so too is to have the chance to be able to give back to the public who supported me in my successes in 2012.

Paralympic champion Richard Whitehead
Whitehead came through the field at London 2012 to win gold

"It is also good preparation for next month's World Championships in Lyon - to see where I am at and what work still needs to be done before that - and also the Anniversary Games back in the Olympic Stadium on Sunday, 28 July."

Whitehead, who is a double above-the-knee amputee, is one of a select group of British athletes to have competed at both a winter and summer Paralympics, having represented Britain in sledge hockey at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.

But his finest sporting moment came in September 2012 when, in front of a packed Olympic Stadium, he claimed Paralympic gold in a world-record time of 24.38 seconds.

Since then, he has been awarded an MBE - and he and partner Valerie became proud parents to daughter Zarah five months ago.

Whitehead has continued training and earlier this year competed in the London Marathon.

And as well as his track action, he is training for his next project, starting in mid-August, which will involve running 40 marathons in 40 days from John O'Groats to Land's End.

But as someone who has been involved in Paralympic sport for many years, Whitehead is thrilled with its increased profile since the London Games.

"I'm 36 and still breaking world records and still at the top of my sport, but I am now seeing a lot of juniors coming through and taking the same kind of journey as myself," he said. "I feel that as athletes, part of our responsibility is to wear the tracksuit and be successful, but also inspire the next generation of athletes.

"I didn't really realise how awesome it would be to walk into the Olympic Stadium full of people and race there - and then see the sustained impact it would have on myself and on athletics within this country.

"It has taken a bit of time but as the Paralympics have evolved - and people see it for what it actually is and how it empowers a lot of people to take part in sport - that for me is very satisfying."

"Although within my community they had heard of me and my athletic achievements before the Games, now wherever I go they have heard of people like myself or Jonnie Peacock or the other stars within Paralympic sport.

"It has definitely highlighted the talent within the GB team. We have some high-level achievers who are seen as athletes - not just Paralympic athletes."

Peacock will also compete in Saturday's event, along with Whitehead and fellow London gold medallists David Weir, Hannah Cockroft and Aled Davies.

They all hope to put in big performances, with Whitehead adding: "It is great for us athletes to have that sort of support because we thrive on it, as you saw at London.

"To go into Saturday as the world-record holder and the fastest in the event this year does does give me a certain amount of confidence, but I'm the kind of athlete who goes on my own performance and doesn't worry about other people's results.

"My coaching team will make me aware of the challenges I may need to be aware of. But I will just go out there and put in the performance. I hope it will be enough to get me that gold medal and make people proud.

"And maybe I can then go and break the world record again at the Anniversary Games."

GB team

Sean Clare, Kyron Duke (F40/41 javelin), Thomas Green, Stephen Miller, Richard Schabel, Graham Condie (F31/32/51 club), Stef Reid (F42/44 long jump), Richard Whitehead (T42 200m), Shelly Woods, Jade Jones (T54 1500m), Holly Neil, Leah Flack (F40 shot), Sophie Kamlish, Laura Sugar, Sally Brown (T43-46 100m), Hannah Cockroft, Mel Nicholls (T33/34 200m), Aled Davies, Dan Greaves (F42-46 discus), Katrina Hart, Bethany Woodward (T37 200m), Andrew Kaar, Owen Miller, Stephen Morris (T20 1500m), Paul Blake, Dean Miller (T36/37 800m), Jonnie Peacock (T43/44 100m), David Weir, Will Smith, Sheik Sheik (T53/54 1500m).