Thursday, 17 February 2011

Wheely Impressive


Series: England Athletics national volunteer award-winners

Services to Disability Athletics – Ian Thompson.

Nicola Bamford profiles the winner of the Services to Disability Athletics award from the 2010 England Athletics national volunteer awards ceremony last autumn...

Immersed in the sport for the past twenty-five years, Dr Robert Ian George Thompson is a key face in disability athletics through a variety of platforms.

The husband of eleven-time Paralympic gold medallist Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, Thompson currently works as a consultant in disability sport and wheelchair racing technology as well as a company director in sport science and management.

The 47-year-old from Stockton-on-Tees has amassed an impressive array of achievements ranging from international competitor to coach, administrator, sports scientist, bio-mechanist and wheelchair designer.

A current UKA level three performance coach, working on his level four grade at present, Thompson was unable to attend the England Athletics awards gala due to participating in a development day in Scotland but was genuinely surprised to hear of his win, despite his long list of achievements:

“I was not able to get to the awards evening as I was up in the Scottish borders and I was obviously very happy to receive such a recognition,” Thompson explained.

A father of one – to nine-year-old Carys – Thompson enjoyed success in other sports such as basketball and cycling in his youth, however, following a spinal injury after crashing his bike in 1984, found great satisfaction in an introduction to his now-beloved athletics.

Racing in the T54 category as a wheelchair athlete, Thompson can boast an impressive athletic CV of with highlights which include being a two-time Paralympian and a two-time World and Commonwealth representative in the 1990’s.

A member of New Marske Harriers and Manchester Kestrels, Thompson additionally held the British records from 200m to 5,000m and today, is still ranked third for the half-marathon (with 45:03 from 1997) on the British all-time lists.

Since his competitive retirement, Thompson has failed to slow down, holding many positions in prestigious bodies across the sport including:

BWRA Sport Science Coordinator from 1993-1999, BWRA Secretary from 1994-1996 and UK Athletics World Class Performance - Wheelchair Racing Event Group Head Coach from 2001-2006.

In recent years, too, Thompson has headed the disability portfolio for the England Athletics North East Regional Council from 2007-present, sat on the BWSF Sports Management Committee from 2008-present, sat on the England Athletics National Council from 2009 – 2010 and also on the BWSF Executive Council form 2010-present.

“One of the most satisfying areas I was involved in was the Wheelchair Racing Sport
Science Support Project, running from 1994 through to 1998 (and continued in various forms until recently),” Thompson revealed, when questioned on his finest working memories.

I was able to develop this work further when I became the UK Athletics Wheelchair Racing Coach in 2001, as part of the team on the World Class Programme developing the squad of athletes for the Athens Paralympics.”

His personal roles over the past decade as an individual have been even more noticeable with Thompson’s career taking in several top duties such as:

UKA wheelchair racing head coach from 2001-2006, wheelchair racing coach for Olympic exhibition races in Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 and more famously as coach, adviser and training partner to his be-medalled partner.

“From 2001 to 2006, I was her boss and this actually worked very quite well,” Thompson explained.

“Though, some thought it was quite tough of me to set her (plus the rest of the squad) a series of time trials on the first day of a training camp in Spain - three weeks after she gave birth to our daughter.

But, that was part of the plan in the run up to Athens – if she was going to go well in Athens, there was not going to be very much time to rest!” – indeed, the plan did work as his wife went onto capture 100m and 400m gold at aged thirty-five.

“Training together has always helped us both,” Thompson continued.

“Sessions of Tanni trying to stay in my slipstream and me trying to drop her worked very well. (As a toddler) hooking Carys’ cycle trailer to the back of Tanni’s racing chair, made the best of resistance training and child-care. Tanni and I still keep fit and race occasionally.”

In addition to his illustrious partner, Thompson has also guided top internationals such as Nicola Jarvis, Jack McKenna and Kevin Papworth over the years and more recently, guides multiple World junior champion Jade Jones and other top juniors including Nikki Emerson and Simon Lawson.

“I’m still enjoying the challenge!” Thompson revealed.

“I prefer to train along with the athletes I coach as much as possible (using a hand-cycle now) as this allows me to also give close monitoring of technique, and to provide feedback and encouragement.”

Away from the track, Thompson also delivers courses and materials to coaches on wheelchair racing and athlete training camps in the UK and abroad, presents at sport science conferences on wheelchair racing technique analysis and evaluation and was recently the co-author (with Tanni) of a chapter on coaching wheelchair racing in the Human Kinetics book ‘Wheelchair Sport’ (2010).

“I have also been manufacturing high-end wheelchair racing gloves, am in the process of redesigning our light-weight training roller system, and in progressing the power measurement tool,” explained Thompson – arguably one of the busiest men in disability sport.

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