Anniversary Games: David Weir goes in search of a reality check a year on from Paralympic glory
He watches the races over and over and still can’t believe it. Now Britain’s golden paralympian returns to the scene of his triumphs
Monday 22 July 2013
When on Sunday evening David Weir propels his six-foot long, custom-built racing chair on to the familiar brown track that runs around the inside of London’s Olympic Stadium he will do so in search of a reality check. Say it was so. There are still moments when he cannot believe what happened to him around and around that same billiard smooth surface a year ago, moments when he watches his races back and is still taken aback to see himself cross the line in first place. No matter how many times he rewinds, he keeps winning.
“You get a buzz – every time I watch it,” says Weir. “Sometimes you think you’re going to lose. There was a period where I watched it for about two days straight. I kept rewinding it, watching it, rewinding it, watching it.”
Why? “Because I couldn’t believe what I’d done, you know? I thought it was impossible to win four gold medals, and in our category there’s world-class athletes and to be so dominant in all the events was surprising to me.”
The invitation mile is the last event of the capital’s Anniversary Games, an unashamed weekend-long wallow in last summer’s jeweller’s stash of golden glory mixed in with the serious business of a Diamond League meeting. A full house of 60,000 will greet Weir rapturously and he will look to provide the perfect finale to the weekend just as he had done to 2012’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, claiming the last gold medal, and the favourite of his four, in the marathon.
When he crossed the finish line on that sunny Sunday afternoon outside Buckingham Palace, Weir installed himself as one of Britain’s most recognisable sportsmen. He is still stopped in the street for people to reminisce about where they were when he won gold one, two, three or four, and he still enjoys that. But what the intervening months, and the arrival of celebrity in his mid-30s, has not done, he insists, is change him. “I’m still Dave who lives on a council estate,” he says simply.
That council estate – where he was “born, bred, nurtured” – is the other side of the old Croydon Airport from the hotel where we speak. It is where he has spent much of his time since London 2012, time spent “being a dad”. Tilly, born in October, is child number three and next week, once his reunion with the Olympic Stadium is done, he, girlfriend Emily Thorne and the children will head for the south of France for a first-ever family holiday – athletic demands have previously always got in the way.
“I have planned this all year,” he says. “No phones, no talking about training, it’s forbidden. I’ll text the guy who is looking after my dogs but that’s it.”
It is part of a year of living differently; plenty of time at home, plenty of training but little competition as he makes his mind up what happens next.
There has been the odd race – the London Marathon, a 1500m at the Birmingham Grand Prix, neither of which he won and both of which he brushes aside as irrelevant results. Sunday’s mile – a rare outing at that distance – is a target. He wants another win on that track. Then preparations will begin for next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, which will be Weir’s first, and then, well, then he is not telling. Once the Commonwealths are done he will reveal whether he will go on to Rio 2016 and a fifth Paralympics. He says he has made his mind up (and told his family) but does not want to go public yet. The suspicion is that Weir will be in Rio – ahead of London he had intended to call it a day afterwards but such was his enjoyment of the occasion, as well, of course, as his form that he decided to roll on.
He is 34 now but says he is confident of his form, and confident of dealing with the expectation that will accompany him onto the track be it on Sunday, in Glasgow and, if he goes, in Rio. His break has done its job.
“That’s probably why I didn’t go to the worlds [in Lyon this week] this year because I knew that the pressure would have been greater to deliver,” he says. “I didn’t know what mental state I was going to be in when I went back training after the Games. I never really put a date on when I was going back training – it was when I wanted to go back. I wanted to spend time with my family. I made that decision to have a fun year. I’m still training and training all right.”
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