The three-time Paralympic gold medallist’s winning mentality is inspiring others and helping him towards a seventh world championships
He might now have more than two decades of international experience behind him, but Stephen Miller’s passion for his sport has not waned over time.
New goals, new challenges and new opportunities to help inspire the next generation mean the three-time Paralympic club throw gold medallist still has plenty left to give in athletics as he works towards representing Great Britain at an incredible seventh world championships in London this summer.
As well as six editions of the IPC Athletics World Championships — now known as the World Para Athletics Championships — Miller has competed at six Paralympic Games, winning his F32/51 gold medals at Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004. He claimed silver at Beijing 2008 and a bronze medal at Rio 2016, plus discus bronze in Sydney.
The only Games at which the 36-year-old did not win a medal was the London Paralympics five years ago, when a hip problem prevented the GB team captain from performing at his best.
Competing on such a stage in front of home fans is an experience Miller will never forget, though, and he is looking forward to another opportunity when the World Para Athletics Championships take place in England’s capital city from July 14-23.
“I think the whole country will get behind the championships and it will be a really special one to be involved in”
“I was lucky enough to compete at the Paralympics in London in 2012 and the atmosphere back then was amazing so hopefully we can create the same kind of atmosphere,” he says.
“I know how much people in this country really love sport and really get behind their sporting heroes so I think it’s going to be no different this time. I think the whole country will get behind the championships and it will be a really special one to be involved in.”
After Miller’s 1996 gold in Atlanta, he went undefeated in all competitions until 2005. Having already achieved so much, with a sporting CV which also includes being world record-holder in the event from 1997 to 2008, how does he maintain his motivation?
“I think it’s down to just every year taking a break, re-evaluating and setting new targets, setting new goals,” says the Gateshead athlete, who is currently coached by his mother, Rosalynd, and started out by working with Paralympic medallist Norman Burns.
“At the minute I’m just really enjoying training. Everybody knows I had a pretty hard time in the build-up to the Paralympics in London. Now I’m back to being fully fit and just really enjoying training.
“I feel like I can still improve, even though I’m getting a bit older. As long as I have that kind of mentality — that I think I can still get better — I’ll keep going.”
On his goal for London this time around, Miller, who already has three world gold medals and a bronze to his name, adds: “The basic target is to get a spot on the podium. It would be fantastic to win a gold medal again.
“I don’t think it’s out of the question that I could win a gold medal. I think I had a good year last year and finished on a high in Rio. I want to keep that momentum going.”
Miller, who has a personal best of 34.37m from 2008, adds: “I know that I’m still capable of throwing a long way so, as long as I can maintain what I’m doing now, there’s every chance that I can pull out a big throw in London and maybe take the gold.”
Miller was born with cerebral palsy, which affects the signals from his brain to his muscles and makes balance and co-ordination more difficult. Having tried various sports at school, he started taking athletics more seriously around the age of 13 and, just three years later, became the youngest GB track and field gold medallist at the Olympics or Paralympics.
“It was something that came naturally to me and I really enjoyed the sport and the challenge,” he recalls. “The challenge of trying to throw further really inspired me. That’s the reason why I’m still driven today, because I just love the sport and I love the challenge.”
“I feel like I can still improve, even though I’m getting a bit older. As long as I have that kind of mentality — that I think I can still get better — I’ll keep going”
Not only is Miller himself inspired by trying to throw further, but his drive and determination motivates others, too.
He frequently speaks in schools, recently meeting pupils at Emmaville Primary School in Gateshead, and founded SMILE Through Sport with his wife Rachel in 2013 to create increased awareness, opportunity and enjoyment in disability sport throughout the North East of England.
“I’m always coming into schools and talking to the kids about sport and telling them my story,” says Miller, who was awarded an MBE in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to sport. “I know that when I was younger I always wanted to meet my sporting heroes and it really makes a difference when you get to meet people, see what they have achieved and talk to them. I really enjoy doing it.”
The dedicated Newcastle United fan, whose own idols include Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer, adds: “I want to try and be a good role model. That’s really important to me. To come into schools and see how much kids take from what you’ve done in sport is totally amazing. It can give them confidence in their own ways. It makes me feel really proud of what I’ve achieved and makes you feel very humble as well.”
STEPHEN MILLER’S TRAINING
Ever wondered what sort of training it takes to become a world-class thrower?
Miller takes us through his programme:
“Every day I do a TRX and core workout, usually first thing in the morning.”
Monday – AM: Speedflex HIIT. PM: Shoulder, chest and back workout at gym (snatch, fly, inverted fly, good mornings)
Tuesday – Rest day
Wednesday – AM: Cleans and punchbag in the gym. PM: Medicine ball session
Thursday – Rest day
Friday – AM: Speedflex HIIT. PM: Shoulder, chest and back workout at gym (snatch, fly, inverted fly, good mornings)
Saturday – AM: Medicine ball session
Sunday – Rest day
Monday – AM: Shoulder, chest and back activation at gym (supersets/dropsets)
Tuesday – AM: Throws training
Wednesday – PM: Medicine ball training
Thursday – Rest day or some throwing
Friday – AM: Shoulder, chest and back activation at gym (supersets/dropsets)
Saturday – AM: Throws training
Sunday – Rest day
» The 2017 World Para Athletics Championships from July 14-23 and the IAAF World Championships from August 4-13 will bring together 3300 athletes from more than 200 countries. It will be the first time the two events will be hosted by the same city in the same summer. See london2017athletics.com
» This interview has been updated since publication in AW magazine to include Stephen Miller’s training diary. The above sessions are specific to the individual athlete and may not be suitable for other athletes