Sophia Warner: Feeding the passion for Paralympics

There'll be a novel integration of Paralympic and Olympic competition in the season's first indoor meet on Saturday. UK Athletics' Sophia Warner tells Simon Turnbull why it had to be this way to keep the London legacy alive

It is a quarter of a century now since the opening indoor international athletics meeting of the season was first staged in Glasgow, the long-legged Linford Christie showing the sprinting power that was to get him on to the medal podium at the Seoul Olympics later that year, 1988, with record-breaking performances in the 60 metres, 200m and 4x200m relay for Great Britain against France. That was at the old Kelvin Hall in the west end of town, where the Bridgeton boy Jim Watt famously floored Alfredo Pitalua to claim the world lightweight boxing title back in 1979.

Across the Clyde in Parkhead, opposite Celtic Park in the east end, the brand spanking new £113m Emirates Arena is getting ready to host its first big event this Saturday. The British Athletics International match will feature medal winners from the London Olympics, such as the Cambridgeshire high jumper Robbie Grabarz and the US sprinter Carmelita Jeter.

The knockout stuff for the sell-out crowd and the BBC television audience, however, will be the appearance of some of the Paralympians who captured the Great British public's imagination last September.

"It's going to be really exciting," Sophia Warner says. "There are four events for Paralympic athletes on the programme and for the first time ever, I think, the people coming along to watch will know who the Paralympic athletes are as well as the able-bodied athletes. That's incredible to think, for someone like myself, who has come right through from when the interest was non-existent."

Warner will be on the sidelines on Saturday, watching the likes of Stef Reid and Libby Clegg, both silver medal winners at London 2012, lead the way in this groundbreaking integration of Paralympic and Olympic competition; there have been one-off races for disabled athletes before but never a showcased series, as there will be in all three of Britain's televised indoor athletics meetings this winter. Warner could just as well be taking part in the action herself, though.

The 38-year-old mother of two has cerebral palsy and has been a member of the GB Paralympic team since 1998. She won two medals at the World Championships in Auckland two years ago – bronze in the T35 100m, silver in the 200m – and was one of the home Paralympians who wowed the 80,000 crowds at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford last September.

Tantalisingly, Warner failed to make it to the podium, finishing fourth in the 100m and 200m, but in her role as commercial director of UK Athletics she has ensured that the Paralympic flame has kept burning brightly in the aftermath of London 2012.

Warner took time out from her burgeoning marketing career to concentrate on her preparations for last year's Games before taking up her key appointment with the domestic governing body of track and field in October. It is due in no small part to her drive that her fellow Paralympians have been given a deserved platform in the indoor season – and that Britain has been chosen as the venue for two of eight meetings, including the final, in a Diamond League-style Paralympic track-and-field grand prix circuit this summer (the exact details of which have yet to be formally announced by the International Paralympic Committee).

"When UK Athletics took me in as commercial director my focus was obviously going to be across the board, but I think they were very aware that I was always going to have a soft spot for disability sport," Warner says. "Therefore, my impact on that side of things was always going to be significant. I wasn't going to sit back and not let it progress. I was going to very much pioneer it forwards.

"I've come in as commercial director and worked very closely with the events team and I want to see these events up and running. I can't stress enough how much Paralympic sport means to us as an organisation.

"It's going to be a big year. I think we'll just see increasingly more and more events. The demand is certainly there. There is no question about that. The Paralympics showed that.

"I remember a friend saying to me, 'Oh, I haven't got a ticket yet to watch your race but I'll get one on the day'. And I do remember thinking, 'I don't think that will be possible.' But there was also a nagging doubt in the back of my head thinking, 'I hope the stadium's not empty.'

"I didn't really think it would be. I always had faith. But I still was overwhelmed by the 80,000 people cheering while my name was called. I just never experienced anything like it. It was amazing. It really was amazing.

"When I won my first World Championship gold medal in 1998 I don't think anyone was there other than my dad and his friends and now 80,000 people have watched me run a PB [personal best] in the Olympic stadium. So, as one of the older Paralympic athletes, I can see how much we've come on. London 2012 has taken us a massive step forward. Never before has the public hunger been there for watching events. I think it is fair to say that UK Athletics has responded accordingly."

While settling into UK Athletics' offices on the north side of Birmingham, Warner has been taking the opportunity in her spare time to train at the high-performance indoor centre next door. She plans to have one final season in the fast lane, and a shot at gold at the IPC World Championships in Lyons in July, before hanging up her racing spikes.

In the meantime, the trailblazing sprinter is making her mark off the track. There have been reports of UK Athletics being close to landing a lucrative sponsorship deal with BT. "I wouldn't ever comment on anything until everything was completed," Warner says. "We're having some very positive conversations with a number of potential sponsors.

"We've had a fantastic Olympic and Paralympic Games and it's all about finding the right partners to work with. If you watch this space, I think it's going to be a fantastic year."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea