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libby clegg INTERVIEW

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Libby Clegg

09 September 2010

Having celebrated "two years to go" until the London 2012 Paralympic Games on 29 August, athletes on the UKA World Class Performance Programme (Paralympic) will continue be featured on the UKA website. Four times Paralympian Stephen Miller was the first athlete to be profiled earlier this summer, followed by former F44 long jump World Record holder Stefanie Reid. Libby Clegg, a Beijing Paralympic Games silver medallist, is the latest athlete to speak to UKA (below).

Beijing Paralympic Games silver medallist Libby Clegg is very accepting of the condition which defines her as a T12 athlete.  What’s striking about Clegg, however, is that the condition does not define her as a person, quite the opposite, in fact.

“I don’t think I face a lot of challenges,” says the visually impaired sprinter, perhaps surprisingly. “Since I started running, and more recently since I moved to Loughborough (one of UKA’s National Performance Centres), it’s made me really confident. I think when I moved here I moved away from the disability stereotype and it really helped me.”

Clegg, who has Stargardt's Macular Dystrophy, an inherited eye condition which affects the central area of the retina called the macula, has enjoyed a predominantly integrated lifestyle thus far and is comfortable in both disability and non-disability settings. “It’s nice being in a non-disabled environment and it’s definitely helped the people around me understand me a lot more, but I’m also happy to link up with the disability athletes at squad weekends and feel part of that set up too,” she says.

She started competing in athletics as an under-11 at a non-disability club in Cheshire and ran without a guide. When her family moved up to Scotland when she was 12 years-old she attended the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh but continued to train with a non-disability group at Edinburgh AC.

“My mum had looked into disability competitions for me when I was 11 and I joined up with British Blind Sport, it was great because it gave me the chance to compete,” she says. “I raced in the Junior Blind Championships and I also did cross country, it was great fun. I really loved cross country. When you’re young it’s such good fun to run in the muck. I just enjoyed running in general and taking part in all athletics, it was great!”

In the absence of UKA’s Aviva Parallel Success initiative during her early development, Clegg - who has two younger brothers, both of whom inherited the genetic condition, and one younger sister - benefited hugely from the support and opportunities offered through British Blind Sport and through Edinburgh’s Royal Blind School. In return, she’s now involved in an unpaid role with the Royal Blind Charity - “I do a lot for them, it’s like I’m their ‘face’,” she laughs - while she does some additional work for ‘Champions in Schools’, a role-model programme that places Scotland’s top international athletes in the classroom to deliver a series of inspirational workshops.

“The number of visually impaired athletes coming through the system might have been different if we’d had a better structure in place when I was younger like Parallel Success,” admits Clegg. “I was ok, but I’m probably the only survivor of that group. I suppose I might have struggled a bit, but it made me more determined.”

Her determination is one of her greatest strengths and was a significant factor in her first major medal success when she finished second in theT12 200m at the 2006 IPC Athletics World Championships in Assen, Netherlands. “I was only 16 and it was my first GB vest,” she says. “Katrina (Katrina Hart, T37 sprinter) had gone to the Europeans the year before and I just missed out, but it made me train harder and I ended up kicking butt in the Worlds.”

She went from strength to strength and in the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games raced to personal best times in both the 100m (12.51) and 200m (26.16), taking home a silver medal in the 100m, her career highlight to date.  “I think I perform well under pressure so it was no surprise I set PBs in Beijing,” she admits. “I was so ready for that 100m, but you’ve no idea until you’ve been there how much all of the attention takes out of you. We had a full stadium every day and it was incredible, the support we had out there was amazing.”

As with every athlete, Clegg’s progression has not been achieved alone and she’s been fortunate to have the support of her guide runner Lincoln Asquith and coach Tom Crick.

While she can train predominantly alone, Asquith has been integral to her success, a factor perhaps not widely appreciated outside of disability sport. “It’s hard to find a guide runner that suits,” she explains. “It’s a definite challenge; I don’t think that a former international runner would find it easy to take on, although I’d like to see them try! Lincoln is an incredibly good guide runner but he’s getting older and we can’t risk him getting injured. Mikael, Lincoln’s son, is getting trained to work with me at the moment. He’s really good with me and he’s run at a high level of competition so he knows how it works.”

In Crick, she’s found a coach she feels comfortable working with, who understands her and who is open to new ideas. She believes her training programme has changed for the better since they began to work together and she now has a greater focus on quality, including her general strength, rather than quantity.

In addition, while Clegg has a competent performance team in place to support her as she works towards the podium in the London 2012 Paralympic Games, she’s also working hard on her long term career development. Having completed a course in sports massage, she’s about undertake a Personal Training qualification and hopes to get involved in the rehabilitation of injured service men and women at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham. “I want to help them get back to being physically active,” she says, “that can have such a positive impact on their lives, in a similar way to the positive impact that running has had on mine.”

Libby’s typical training week:

  • Monday: an extensive tempo running session on grass plus general strength circuits and glute/core work

  • Tuesday: warm up, drills including multiple jumps/plyometrics, short speed session then gym work (weights)

  • Wednesday: extensive tempo running session on grass plus hurdle walkovers and general strength circuits plus glute/core work

  • Thursday: warm up, drills including multiple throws (medicine balls etc), speed endurance session plus gym work (weights)

  • Friday: off

  • Saturday:  warm up, drills including multiple jumps and throws followed by a 200m specific endurance session and weights

  • Sunday: off

The series continues next month.