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Stepping into the spikes of a visually-impaired sprinter

Stepping into the spikes of a visually-impaired sprinter

Gaining a new perspective on para-athletics, and a British DNF which didn’t affect the medal table

In one of the most highly-anticipated races of the World Para Athletics Championships in London, there was disappointment for the British Athletics relay team as they failed to get the baton round.

Luckily for the host nation, the performance didn’t affect the medal table. And to describe a media relay as ‘highly-anticipated’ might be stretching it a bit. But for those involved – including a British Athletics communications team and guests – it was a big deal.

As one of the blindfolded guest team-members, I can speak from experience. Drawn in the inside lane and set up well after a strong first leg by British Athletics’ Gareth Burrell, I received the baton along with my guide runner Beth Moorely to tackle the second leg. We exchanged with British Athletics’ James Harding, but then disaster struck.

Former AW writer Ben Coldwell and his guide runner, Ryan Bangs of London 2017, blasted away but were thwarted by an ankle injury which would later require track-side (and then hospital) treatment. Heal soon, Ben!

After the series of 4x100m races on Sunday afternoon ahead of the final session of the championships, the BBC Sport team – featuring former British sprinter Allison Curbishley and Paralympic swimmer Kate Grey – was declared victorious in the media relay. We’ll catch them next time!

While this blog post, and the media relay, is all just a bit of fun, on a serious note it was an enlightening experience. The World Para Athletics Championships in the UK capital provided so many impressive performances, but running blindfolded, even at a fraction of the speed of the elites, has given me a further appreciation of the achievements by athletes competing in the visually-impaired classes.

While I completely trusted Beth to guide me, it was still pretty nerve-wracking and we were only running at a pace of around 16 seconds for our relay leg. The world T11 100m record run by Britain’s Libby Clegg and her guide Chris Clarke in Rio last year is 11.91, for example, while Cuba’s Omara Durand, who is the world’s fastest female Paralympic sprinter, won her T12 100m race in London in 11.52, and her world record stands at 11.40.

“I just train hard for events like these and there is no limit to how fast I can go,” Durand said after her win in London.

“I am proud to be a para athlete but I would love to compete against the able-bodied athletes,” she added. “They are on a different level.”

To me, it is Durand and her fellow para-athletes that are on another level!

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