Tanni Grey-Thompson’s guide to Team GB’s superhumans

Britain's most successful Paralympian reveals the hidden tactics and secrets to success behind some of the Brits going for gold in these Games

You’re commentating for BBC Radio 5 Live during the Paralympics. Are you worried about having to explain all the classifications to listeners?


The first thing to say is that if you don’t know what each classification is, don’t worry about it! All you need to know is that each classification is based on how an athlete’s impairment affects their ability to do that sport.

Basically, 11-13 means blind or visually impaired; 20 is for learning disabilities; anyone in the 30s has cerebral palsy; 40s are amputees; and 50s are wheelchair users. But you don’t really need to know all the numbers: just know that an athlete competes against someone with similar attributes – a bit like boxing.

Some athletes, like wheelchair racers David Weir and Shelly Woods, seem to be competing in loads of events. How do they manage it?

It’s hard training, but actually wheelchair racing is a lot like cycling where you have athletes competing in a number of events. You wouldn’t get a runner training for the 100m, 200m and 400m, for example, but in wheelchair racing that’s really common.

David Weir is one of our great medal hopefuls. He competes in the T54 800m, 1500m, 5000m and the marathon – is he ready for all that?

He was the only gold medallist from Beijing in athletics; that puts huge pressure on him. But he’s been really smart, he’s not over-raced, he’s just done the races he’s had to do. And he can win four golds.

What’s his secret?

Dave is strong, he’s smart, and he can read a race. The interesting thing is that he races on very soft gloves so you can’t hear his acceleration. Virtually everyone else races on solid plastic gloves, so as soon as they change their speed you can hear their hands slapping against the chair. But with Dave you can’t.

So he’s the silent assassin? That sounds good.

Even if people are watching him closely, they don’t notice his acceleration until it’s too late. It’s such a pleasure to watch him race, because you can’t predict him.

You and your husband coach another wheelchair racer, 16-year-old Jade Jones. Is she ready to compete in front of a home crowd?

We’ve tried to prepare her in lots of different ways. When I went to a day at the Olympics I rang her from the stadium and told her, “This is how loud the crowd will be for you.” To be honest, Jade is 16 going on 30! She is very quiet, but she’s got an amazing sense of humour and she absorbs everything. And this year she’s come on so fast: she’s number four in the world over 400m, which is incredible for a 16-year-old.

Away from the stadium, what are you looking forward to watching?

Wheelchair rugby is brilliant. I think people will be amazed at how violent it is. When it first started it was called Murderball, which I thought was quite appropriate. I love rugby; it’s amazing to play. I tried it myself, but it was when I was competing so the guys were very careful not to smash up my hands. They were always a bit more gentle with me!

Equestrian star Lee Pearson could overtake your record of eleven gold medals during these Paralympics. Will you be secretly hoping he doesn’t make it?

These titles of most successful Olympian or Paralympian are a bit weird – my dream as a Paralympic athlete was just to win as many medals as I could, not to be “Britain’s most successful” at anything.

Lee always leads me astray: he’s very cheeky and gets me into trouble, but he’s lovely. I’m quite serious and straight-laced and he’s definitely not, so we sort of work well together. I really like Lee, so if someone is going to take my recordof being the most successful British Paralympian, I’d want it to be someone I like. Is that really horrible?


Your secret’s safe with us, Tanni.