Tanni Grey-Thompson: what to watch at the Paralympics

The eleven-time Paralympic gold medallist picks her six unmissable sports and the athletes set to shine over the London 2012 competition

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Athletics

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I may be biased given that it was my sport, but the wheelchair racing is going to be very exciting. In particular, watch out for the 800m and 1500m races. These are very tactical, with competitors using their 6ft long chairs to try and slipstream each other, much like cyclists do. So it’s cat and mouse and calls for stamina as well as tactical thinking. Team GB’s David Weir will be competing in both (from Wed 5 and Mon 3 Sep respectively), defending the Olympic titles he won in 2008 in Beijing. He’s the current world number one and world record holder, so if Dave performs as we all hope, expect the crowd to offer an ecstatic reception of Mo Farah proportions on the home straight.

Also look out for wheelchair racer Shelly Woods who will be competing at four distances this year – the 800m, 1500m, 5,000m and the marathon – which makes for a really tough week, but I’m sure she’ll be ready. Shelly is the world record holder in the 1500m and has made huge leaps in the past couple of years. She’s still a young girl at 26 and women’s racing is going through a really strong patch, but she’s got the ability and potential to win. We all need to pray for rain – if it’s cold, miserable and wet, Shelly really comes into her own!

I think the 100m, with British sprinter Jonnie Peacock and the South African Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius, is going to be one of the best, most competitive races of the Paralympics. It’s Oscar’s toughest race, because he’s stronger over 200m. Jonnie broke the world record in his last competition before selection, so he’s in great shape. There’s also an American athlete called Jerome Singleton who beat Oscar at last year’s world championships – he’s really sweet, and always calls me “ma’am” when I see him.”

The men’s T54 800m final is on Thursday 6 September at 9:07pm. The women’s T54 1500m final takes place on Friday 7 September at 8:41pm. The men’s T44 100m final is on Thursday at 9:16pm.


Equestrian

Until recently riders had to draw lots for the horse they rode in competition, but now they are allowed to ride their own horse, which is great for the sport because it’s taken the element of chance out of it. At these Games, men and women compete against each other in individual championship and freestyle tests across five classifications as well as a team test. Team GB has won the team event at every Games since 1996, so Greenwich Park is the venue to keep an eye on for GB gold!

Lee Pearson, at 40 has a great chance for three gold medals during these Games. That will give him 12 golds overall – more than me!

Equestrian events begin at Greenwich on Thursday 30 August


Track Cycling

The good news is Team GB’s Paralympic cyclists are as dominant across the board as our Olympic cycling team are! My favourite event is tandem racing, where a visually impaired athlete rides on the back of a tandem with a sighted pilot in front. It’s a brilliant and exhilarating spectacle. Our paralympic cyclists include two former swimmers in Sarah Storey, OBE and Jody Cundy, MBE, who have joined the select group who have become a Paralympic champion in two different sports.

Sarah Storey takes to the track from Thursday 30 August and Jody Cundy from Friday 31 August. 


Sitting Volleyball

A really technical game but some of the skills on view will leave you open-mouthed. The only thing you need to remember is that a part of the player’s body between the buttocks and shoulders must be in contact with the court when attempting to play the ball. I rate our women’s team as having a slightly better chance than our men. Look out for Martine Wright, who will be in our women’s team. Hers is an extraordinary story of resilience, dedication and determination and sums up the spirit of the Paralympics.

The women’s sitting volleyball semi-finals take place on Wednesday 5 September


Swimming

We forget that Ellie Simmonds is still only 17. The Team GB swimming sensation from Beijing is competing in four events (the 50m, 100m, 400m freestyle and 200m individual medley), which will be a challenge, but they wouldn’t have entered her unless they thought she could win all four. Personally, I think she could wow us all again. 

It’s also worth watching Sam Hynd and his younger brother Ollie go head to head in the 200m individual medley. I think it must be amazing, and a nightmare at the same time, to be swimming against your brother – it could be the Brownlee brothers take two!

Ellie swims in the S6 400m freestyle heats on Saturday from 10:13am. The men’s SM8 200m IM heats are on Wednesday at 9:30am.


Wheelchair fencing

Team GB’s youngest Paralympic athlete is fencer Gabi Down, who only turned 14 in May. In fencing, where you tend to peak when you’re a bit older, that’s unusual. But when you’re young, you have no fear and just take it all in your stride. 

Gabi competes for the women’s fencing team on Friday 7 September at 11am.


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Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson is reporting on the Paralympics for Radio 5 Live.