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dan greaves interview

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Dan Greaves

06 May 2011

F44 discus World Champion and World Record holder Dan Greaves is the latest athlete to be featured on UKA’s website (below) as part of an ongoing series focusing on UKA’s World Class Performance Programme (Paralympic) athletes in the countdown to the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Four times Paralympian Stephen Miller, former F44 long jump World Record holder Stefanie Reid, Beijing Paralympic Games multi-medallist Shelly Woods, IPC World Champions Libby Clegg and Katrina Hart and Hart’s training partner Ben Rushgrove - also a medallist in the 2011 IPC World Championships - have previously been featured.

It’s testament to the progress of Paralympic sport when an athlete admits his dream is no longer to compete in the Olympic Games, but to dominate in the Paralympic Games; it’s a little known fact, too, that three-time World Champion and F44 discus World Record holder Dan Greaves once competed internationally for Great Britain and Northern Ireland in a non-disabled competition, fuelling his ambition and desire to represent Team GB on the greatest stage of all.

So what changed? “I think it stemmed from my disappointment in the Beijing Paralympics in 2008,” says Greaves, who has finished on the podium in each of the last three Paralympic Games, winning gold in Athens in 2004.

“Up until then my dream had been to compete in the Olympics but my bread and butter event (1.5kg weight discus) was being jeopardised by my focus on the 2kg weight (the Olympic weight implement). I realised it was more important to me to be able to dominate at Paralympic level but to still enjoy opportunities to compete as a guest in non-disabled events when they came along.”

It was a tough realisation for the then-25-year-old who had gone to Beijing unbeaten in eight years, but finished with bronze. “I knew that I just had to go out there and do what I’d normally do,” he says, “but when there’s expectation it can be quite hard to control. The crowd was so big it also added to the pressure; it would be quiet until a Chinese athlete came out then it would go crazy, it went from one extreme to another. In London you’ll know that noise is for you, and while it’ll be a distraction, it’ll be a positive one, but it was tough in the Birds Nest.

“I was so disappointed after that I didn’t really know how to take it. I felt like I lost my way a bit, but looking back it opened my eyes and made me more focused. For the past two years I’ve been working as hard as possible to ensure that doesn’t happen again.”

Older and wiser, defending champion Greaves travelled to January’s IPC Athletics World Championships New Zealand as Aviva GB & NI team captain and admitted that the squad as a whole had benefited from a change in attitude, attention to detail and team spirit in the intervening years.

“This is one of the best competitions I’ve ever been involved in for team cohesion,” he said at the time. “Everyone is in a really positive mind and working together. We’ve got a really diverse group of athletes old and young and we’re all helping one another out – I think it’ll lead to a successful team overall.”

He was right, and the seamless integration of seasoned internationalists and teenage debutants led to a hugely positive atmosphere and successful medal winning campaign. “We were all hungry for it,” reflects Greaves; “the juniors were so eager, and it was lively, whereas Beijing had just been a bit stale.”

The team went on to exceed all expectations and won a total of 38 medals to surpass the previous totals in Assen 2006 and Lille 2002 and finish third in the medal table. In addition to a new global mark from Greaves (58.98m), British athletes achieved 19 lifetime best performances and five new European Records.

It was a significant step on the journey to London 2012 for both Greaves and his junior compatriots who, he says, “have got a good attitude, both positive and ambitious, and give off a really positive energy.”

While many of those young athletes have benefited from a well-supported and delivered Paralympic Pathway through the Aviva Parallel Success initiative, Greaves’ own transition into disability sport is less text book. “I didn’t even realise I could compete in disability sport until I was 17,” he says. “I’d been competing as an able-bodied athlete with my coach Jim Edwards at Charnwood (Loughborough) since I was 13.”

In fact his own experience of Paralympic sport was limited to the television and that had proved less than inspirational.

“I think the first Paralympic Games I watched was in Atlanta in 1996,” he says. “At the time I was still throwing in able bodied competitions so it wasn’t really registering, but I do remember that it wasn’t very exciting or fast paced and I pretty much switched off.

“Looking back now you can see how far it’s come (Paralympic sport). The knowledge has increased and the athletes are more professional and performances are getting better and better; guys like Oscar (Pistorius) are pushing boundaries and it’s become more exciting.

“New Zealand was, and London is a unique opportunity to show the world what we’re made of,” he continues. “The whole Paralympic movement has moved on so much since Atlanta and there’s some serious competition out there. The medals we’ve perhaps taken for granted in the past are no longer so easy to win. We were ahead of the game but the world has caught us up and we’ve had to – and are having to continue to - work harder than ever to make the grade.”

“I’d had a good year in 2010, as did many of the others, so there was real expectation to perform in New Zealand,” he reflects; “we did, but now we have to set ourselves new targets. A 60m throw is my main aim, but since throwers peak later than track athletes my dream, realistically, would be to hit the 65m mark.”

It goes some way to evidencing the performance benchmark for a World and former Paralympic champion, but it’s the media attention that will make greatest difference to the sport as a whole, he says. “It’s the best way to show off our sport and it’s the best form of communicating what we do,” he explains. “That wasn’t happening in 1996 and it’s now a major part of everything we do. I hope that by London the profile will be so high that people will understand the sport and see it as exciting, and in turn, that it will prompt others to get involved.”

You can also read these interviews on www.insideworldparasport.biz; the series continues next month.