Dan Greaves: Meet Discus Dan, the man who crossed the divide
This is his fourth Paralympics but he is proud to have a GB able-bodied vest as well, he tells Simon Turnbull
Like Oscar Pistorius, Dan Greaves has been on both sides of the fence. Indeed, the Leicestershire man set out as a discus thrower in able-bodied competition long before he discovered that he was eligible for Paralympic events – as a sufferer of the foot deformity talipes.
Unlike the trailblazing South African Blade Runner, Greaves did not quite make it to Olympic level but he did win a GB Under-20 vest in 2001, competing in a junior international match against the United States at Stoke. "We had a pretty loaded junior team back then," he recalled. "Goldie Sayers was in the javelin. And I remember Mo Farah running too."
Indeed, the records show that "Mohamed Farah", the future Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m champion, won the 3,000m at the Northwood Stadium in Stoke that day, clocking 8min 20.35sec. Sayers won the javelin with 52.74m and Greaves finished fourth in the discus with a throw of 43.20m.
Eleven years on, the pride of Charnwood Athletic Club is attempting to follow in the footsteps of his former GB junior team-mate as a home gold medal winner at London 2012. Greaves will be throwing for gold in the F44 discus category at the Paralympics.
At 29, he has a complete set of medals from the last three Paralympic Games, having won silver in Sydney in 2000, gold in Athens in 2004 and bronze in Beijing in 2008. He was already a Paralympian when he teamed up with Farah, Sayers and Co in Stoke in 2001 – an accidental Paralympian, it has to be said.
"Yeah, back in the day, I started out in able-bodied athletics, right from school sports," Greaves reflected. "I did the English Schools Championships and the AAA U-15 and U-17 Championships. I was always ranked in the top five in the country.
"I came up in the same age-group as the likes of Mark Lewis-Francis, Chris Lambert, Goldie Sayers and Nick Buckfield. And Mo. I can remember watching him running the 5,000m at the AAA Under-20s when I was on the podium getting my silver medal.
"That was in 2001. I progressed up to second in the UK and that's why I got my GB able-bodied vest.
"By then, I had competed in the Paralympics in Sydney. I had a friend who worked in disability sport and he said, 'Look, you could be eligible.' I didn't realise I could compete in a disability rank but I learnt a lot about the Paralympic movement and the sport in general and I went for classification.
"They said, 'Look, this is your target distance for the year.' I threw that and they selected me for Sydney. That was the start of my Paralympic career.
"I got the able-bodied Under-20 vest a year later and I was the first Paralympian to compete in an able-bodied international for Britain. It was quite an achievement to be the first person to cross that divide."
Greaves still turns out in able-bodied league competition for the Loughborough-based Charnwood club, but sparingly so these days. "There are two different weights of implement involved," he said. "The able-bodied weight is a 2kg discus and the discus for Paralympic competition is 1.5kg.
"We have toned down training with the 2kg discus because it disrupts my timing with the 1.5kg one. But when I'm not preparing for a major competition it's good to compete for Charnwood in the men's leagues. I do like to help the team out. It's good fun."
Having straddled both sides of the fence, "Discus Dan", as he is known, is well placed to offer a perspective on where Paralympic sport stands in the general sporting scheme of things.
"My passion now is obviously as a Paralympian," he said, "but I still throw against able-bodied competitors and I've got so many friends who are able-bodied competitors. I'm fortunate enough that I can throw on both sides and I don't see any distinction between the two.
"Obviously, someone with a more severe disability can't access those able-bodied events and would probably see it as a bigger divide. But I think we are closing the gap now.
"The ticket sales that we've got for this Paralympic Games is the most ever, so hopefully we can change perception. It would be good to get some more crowds to our events in the future and really push the movement on.
"People are intrigued about all these different sports that they can get into it. And it's going to give a lot more people greater access to the sport in the future.
"That's part and parcel of our legacy: to bring through the next crop of young sports people with a disability and give them a chance to compete in general, as well as a chance to try to make the level that we're at."
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