29 Aug 2011

How many Paralympics athletes can you name?

With exactly one year until the London 2012 Paralympics, Channel 4 News asks athletes and Paralympic sports bosses if attitudes towards the Games are changing.

Ellie Simmonds shot to fame in the 2008 Paralympics (Getty)

Oscar Pistorius, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Ellie Simmonds are among the best known Paralympic athletes, past and present.

But there are few other household names despite the vast range of talent.

British Paralympic archer Danielle Brown won a gold medal competing against able-bodied athletes at the Olympics.

Dutch wheelchair tennis player Esther Vergeer is unbeaten in more than 400 matches and is considered by some the most successful athlete in history. She is also a sporting celebrity in the Netherlands.

One of the main aims of the London 2012 Paralympics is to raise awareness of Paralympic sport and increase the athletes’ profiles.

New British Paralympic Association Chief Executive, Tim Hollingsworth, says Britain’s achievements in 2012 “will not just measured in medals but in the awareness and understanding we have created, and the barriers we have helped to break down, through the power of sport.”

Is it working?

Paralympic weightlifting hopeful Andrew Whitaker told Channel 4 News that attitudes are improving: “I think it’s getting better because obviously there’s more TV coverage.

“I think for all the Paralympic athletes that’s one thing that has been missing in previous years.”

Channel 4 has the TV rights to the 2012 Paralympic Games and has agreed to screen 150 hours of action.

Andrew’s weightlifting teamate Ali Jawad told Channel 4 News that many people were not aware of the sporting talent in Britain’s Paralympic team: “The Paralympics as a whole has always been second to the Olympics.

“I think that’s completely wrong because if you look at the history we do better at our pinnacle games than Olympic athletes do.

“Luckily we have a history of having really good talent but having talent is one thing – getting them through to the elite level is another thing.

“In this country we’ve got a very good system of developing athletes to the elite level.”

Director of Performance at the British Paralympic Association Penny Briscoe told Channel 4 News that the media, as a whole, is more interested in Paralympic sport than ever before.

She said: “I think when more of the British public start to understand Paralympic sport and they understand what exceptional athletes are delivering those performances, I think that will be part of a successful Games campaign for us.”

“What we’re trying to do at ParalympicsGB is start to gain recognition for Paralympic athletes which is there in some circumstances but probably only a couple of household names where as in Olympic terms there are many, many more household names.

But she admitted that change takes time: “Paralympic sport is still relatively new when you compare it to its Olympic counterpart so we take that in terms of the context of timing.

“We think the timing of London is perfect to put more Paralympic athletes on the map and to put Paralympic sport on the map.”