Libby Clegg: Paralympic sprinter targets Rio medal with new guide

By Elizabeth HudsonBBC Sport
Paralympic sprinter Libby Clegg
Libby Clegg has won medals at Paralympic, World and European level

Paralympic sprinter Libby Clegg has told BBC Sport she believes her new guide-running partnership can help bring her success at the Rio Games.

Clegg is one of British Paralympic sport's best-known faces, having enjoyed considerable success since she made her GB debut 10 years ago.

The 26-year-old has the degenerative eye condition Stargardt's Macular Dystrophyexternal-link and is registered blind.

With Rio on the horizon, and as she chases a first Paralympic gold medal in her T12 category, Clegg has opted to link up with elite sprinter Chris Clarke, who himself is also aiming to make the GB Olympic team.

Challenging times for Clegg

It has been a difficult time for Clegg since she won Commonwealth gold for Scotland in Glasgow in July 2014.

She had to withdraw from the European Championships in Swansea that August with a viral infection.

After switching coaches to Joe McDonnell, who also works with IPC Athletics world champion sprinter Sophie Hahn, in early 2015 the Scot was hoping for better fortunes.

Although she put in an impressive performance over 200m at the Anniversary Games in London in July, her season was hampered by injuries.

Worse was to follow when she had to pull out of the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha in October with an ankle problem and she subsequently lost her British Athletics funding.

She also parted company with guide Mikail Huggins who she had been working with for five years, and who partnered her to Paralympic silver in London in 2012 and Commonwealth gold.

Libby Clegg and Mikail Huggins
Clegg had worked with former guide Mikail Huggins since 2010

Why the changes?

"The T12 sprint events have moved forward massively in the past 12 months, which is great for Para-sport in general," she says. "I just need to make sure I am up there with my rivals and in the mix for medals," she explains.

"At the World Championships, I saw that the guide runners who my rivals are running with are all elite-level international athletes themselves.

"I felt I needed a guide who had that international experience and was able to run those quicker times."

But Clegg admits that she had moments of self-doubt before deciding to push on to Rio.

"Losing my funding was a blow but I have retained my sponsors. Without them I wouldn't be able to carry on," she says.

"I definitely had some down moments. After Doha, I had some time off and I really needed that break to gather my thoughts and see whether I wanted to carry on for the next couple of years.

"That was very beneficial and helped to put my mind at ease that this is what I wanted to do.

"I didn't want to give up so close to the Games and I would have felt like a quitter if I had left with less than a year to go, especially knowing I have such a supportive team behind me."

Who is Chris Clarke?

Chris Clarke
Chris Clarke won a World Youth 400m title as a teenager

Clarke, 26, is a talented sprinter in his own right. Trained by Steve Fudge, he represented England at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and also has Great Britain representative experience.

As well as working with Clegg, he is also aiming for a place on the Great Britain Olympic team in Rio either in the 200m or 400m, or in the 4x400m relay.

He reached the semi-finals of the 200m at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and ran for GB at the 2012 European Championships - but missed out on a place at London 2012.

"Libby approached me and said she needed a new guide. I like a challenge and it is something new and exciting," he said.

"Being attached to someone when you are running took a bit to get used to but I think it is going well so far, even though it is early days.

"I want to make both the Olympics and Paralympics. It is achievable but I am excited for Libby and helping someone to achieve their dream is fulfilling."

Can she achieve it?

Chris Clarke and Libby Clegg
Clarke and Clegg will be hoping to have a busy and successful summer

Clegg's 100m personal best is 12.13 seconds, which she achieved at London 2012, while the world record - held by Cuba's Omara Durand - is 11.48, set at the Worlds. The silver and bronze medals in Doha were won with times of 11.94 and 11.96.

It means that Clegg will have to run her fastest times to have any chance of a medal in Rio, but she - and her coach - are confident she can do it.

"I am a lot fitter, healthier and stronger than I have ever been," she says. "It is now just staying injury free and I have a good team around me so I am confident I can do well."

"Libby has won medals at so many major championships. I don't think anyone should doubt her capability and her talent," insists Clarke.

McDonnell also believes she can make the improvement she needs.

"Some of the changes we have made involve the way she is placing her foot on the floor and you can see she is moving better. She is in the best shape she has ever been in over the past 12 months," he adds.

"Durand has blown the event wide open and there is a lot for the rest of the world to catch up on - but that is sport and the rest of the world has to get better, too."