WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
Not many athletes can consistently perform at a world-class level over distances ranging from the 100m all the way up to the marathon but for Paralympic great David Weir, its second nature, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 31-year-old Londoner, who competes in the T54 category, is arguably Britain’s finest wheelchair racer and a global force to be reckoned with on the track and road; such is his determined, intelligent yet aggressive aptitude for the sport.
Having taken up disability athletics at the age of eight, Weir went on to compete at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics aged just 17 before dropping out of the sport for a few years, only to return in time for the 2004 Athens Games where he took 100m silver and 200m bronze.
His years of dedication and honing of talent has to date rewarded him with an impressive collection of twenty major championship medals, including multiple British and World records over both terrains - but Weir is not finished with the sport yet, as he continues to create sparks in the lead up to his ultimate goal of claiming gold in the London 2012 Paralympics:
“2012’s the biggie for me,” Weir explained. “And I obviously want to do well in the Worlds in January but it’ll be tough to peak then for the champs in New Zealand – I’m not normally very good at peaking early but it’s an important stepping stone to the London Games and it will probably be my last Paralympics.”
A repeat of his Beijing 2008 accomplishments would indeed provide the ultimate swansong for Weir, who as a stalwart in British disability sport, has become a British Paralympic hero and earned himself an MBE in 2009 for his athletic achievements.
On his superb sporting CV and longevity, Weir revealed: “2009 was an off-year for me – there was no major focus so it was a funny year. I wanted a break from the sport; I’ve been racing competitively since I was 20 so I’ve been doing it for a long time. 2009 was good away from racing, what with the MBE and being given freedom of my local borough and recognised by the community.
“The achievements I’m most proud of are my three world golds and one silver and Beijing was special also, as I was frightened after having glandular fever in 2007 – it was tough to come back from it but I still won (800m and 1500m gold, 400m silver and 5,000m bronze).”
Bouncing back from adversity, too, is certainly is one of Weir’s specialities. A four-time winner of the London marathon, Weir was devastated to suffer two flat tyres in the closing stages of this year’s race whilst enjoying a huge lead but returned with vigour to win the BUPA Great Manchester 10km title the following month; showing eye-catching form.
Coached by Jenny Archer and joined by his personal trainer on a bike to push him during sessions in the capital’s Richmond Park and Kingston track, Weir’s season has progressed with consummate ease and at confidence-boosting rate after capitalising on his triple gold medal-winning display in BWAA International and World Cup 1500m gold last year to speed to three personal bests recently.
During a visit to Switzerland earlier this month, Weir battled with his great Swiss rival Marcel Hug to go beneath his world records in the 1500m and 5,000m but agonisingly, still narrowly lost the two global bests to his compatriot.
In fields that resembled Paralympic final start-lists, Weir clocked 1:32.66 in the 800m before breaking the world bests – albeit in second place – with 2:55.25 and 9:53.15, respectively.
On his form this year, Weir said: “I’m really pleased with my season so far. London wasn’t good but it wasn’t my fault and then getting a virus around the time of the World Cup – my times were bad but we sorted out my medication.
In Switzerland my times were very fast – it was a shame I didn’t win, though. I was very happy with those PB’s but frustrated – I wish I’d had more training time since the virus before the races but that’s the way it turned out.”
Hoping to get revenge and even quicker, Weir will now drive into new territory as he takes part in three consecutive IAAF Diamond League demonstration races this summer. Tomorrow, he will contest the 1500m in Lausanne before tackling the same event as well as the 100m and 800m “for fun” in Gateshead this Saturday.
“Training’s been consistent recently, which is good to know. I just need to keep it up until the end of season races in Paris, Crystal Palace and Zurich,” Weir explained.
“I don’t focus on the sprints anymore – more the 800m, 1500m and the 5,000m – the latter two are my favourite events. The speed-work in the summer really helps my longer races in the autumn/winter.”
Weir’s speed-endurance will be tested to the maximum this autumn; too, as after a competition break in August, he has aspirations of glory in either the Great North Run (a title he claimed in 2003 and 2005) or the Berlin marathon in September, with a view to adding to his 2005 victory in the New York marathon.
And with 2012 fast on the horizon, each competition holds more importance than ever and although focused on the climax of his Paralympic dream, Weir is already looking to the future away from the racing chair:
“I want to get into coaching after my athletics career and I would like to do more DJ’ing – I do it at home as a hobby to unwind; I’ve always been into the underground music scene. Also when I retire, I’d like to get into breeding French bulldogs with my partner.”
And with Weir’s dogged, terrier-like obsession of achieving on the global stage, it is little wonder he is fascinated with producing such creatures in order to continue those trademark winning traits long after retirement.