Sporting Greats: Tanni Grey-Thompson

Image via Flickr. Photograph by Discovering Ability

By Jack Vavasour

The Paralympics, compared to its sister event, is relatively new having had its first competition in 1960. When it began it only had 57 events across 8 sports. 28 years later of its greatest athletes would make her debut.

Tanni Grey-Thompson first competed in the Paralympics at the age of 19 in 1988 at the Seoul Paralympics. Having been born with Spina Bifida, Grey-Thompson had to use a wheelchair for her whole life and in doing so she also developed her love of sport and racing. At Seoul she would win her first medal, a Bronze in the 400 metres wheelchair racing. She would go on to compete at four more games and become one of Britain’s most successful Paralympians to date.

It would be at her next games, in Barcelona, that she would win the first four of her eleven Gold medals. She dominated the track, winning both short and middle distance races. The 100 metres, 200 metres, 400 metres and 800 metres were all hers as she raced her way to becoming a legend. She also won a silver in the 4×100 metre relay. Grey-Thompson would go onto have a less successful run of things in the following Paralympics, where she only managed one Gold medal, in the 800 metres, and 3 silver medals.

Grey-Thompson would return to her best in Sydney in 2000, again winning four Gold medals in the same events. It was this year that Grey-Thompson would also come third in Sports Personality of the year due to her fantastic performance at the Paralympics. She would also win the Helen Rollason award, again for her efforts that summer but her career as a whole.

Grey-Thompson would close her Paralympic account in her fifth games in Athens, where she would once again claim the 100 metres and the 400 metres. When she retired, Grey-Thompson had 11 Gold medals, 4 silvers and a bronze. This made her the second most successful British Paralympian at the time, she has since been taken over by Sarah Storey.

Not only did Grey-Thompson exceed at the Paralympics, on the biggest stage in the World, but also found success in the longer forms of athletics. Grey-Thompson won the London Marathon 6 times throughout her career. The reason why Grey-Thompson should be considered as one of the greatest British athletes of all time is due to her all round ability and how she not only dominated the Paralympics in sprints and middle distance but also her conquering of the London Marathon. To have such a wide variety of skill is something that few athletes possess.

Ultimately, Grey-Thompson is one of Britain’s greatest ever athletes, as she always performed on the biggest stage. Ironically, she only won two World Championship Gold medals, yet when it came to the Paralympics, this Cardiff born great was unbeatable.

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