The Paralympian taking on able-bodied athletes
Saturday 02 October 2010
England is no longer a "Land of Hope and Glory", on this particular stage.
An internet poll conducted before the team headed for India voted out the country's old victory anthem and plumped for "Jerusalem". So Chariots of Fire it will be, then, when the 359-strong squad wearing the Cross of St George set about the business of winning gold, silver and bronze on Monday, the day after the opening ceremony for the XIX Commonwealth Games – a festival that might not have been, but for a desperate last-minute clean-up operation at the athletes' village.
It just so happened that a young lady on a chariot of sorts – a wheelchair with the Union Jack emblazoned on each side – was paraded at the Team England pre-Games press conference yesterday, at which the badminton player Nathan Robertson was named as flag-bearer for the opening ceremony. Following all the high-profile withdrawals – among them Phillips Idowu, who is pictured on the front page of the team handbook – Danielle Brown could be seen as a symbol of what Craig Hunter, the chef de mission, described as a "dynamic" new-look team, featuring a blend of seasoned major Games campaigners with "younger, more raw talent who will benefit enormously from the experience".
The loss of Idowu, Christine Ohuruogu, Mo Farah and others might have reduced English expectations in Delhi to some way below the hope and glory of challenging Australia for top spot in the medal table. In fact Hunter spoke yesterday of the threat from India and Canada, suggesting that the Team England aim would be just holding on to the second overall place they occupied in the last three Games, but the absence of the big names will give unsung heroes such as Brown the chance to move into the limelight.
On Monday, when the 22-year-old law graduate struggles from her wheelchair, with the aid of crutches, and settles on to her stool at the archery range, she will become the first Paralympian to represent England at a Commonwealth Games. Brown suffers from reflex sympathetic dystrophy, an excruciating neurological condition. Unlike Oscar Pistorius, the celebrated South African "Blade Runner" and a fellow gold medallist at the Paralympics in Beijing two years ago, the North Yorkshire lass – a native of Lonsdale, near Skipton – has made the crossover into the mainstream major championship sporting arena.
"I've never thought of sport as having boundaries," Brown said, "but I suppose it's great to be seen as pushing them. Sarah Storey is out here as well and she's doing really well." A Paralympic gold medallist as both a swimmer and a cyclist, Storey will follow Brown into the record books when she competes in the track cycling later in the week.
"It's exciting just to be here," Brown added. "My dad's been sending me emails, saying 'They've found a snake in someone's bed – are you OK?' And I'm, 'Yeah, Dad, I'm fine, don't believe everything you hear. It's really nice out here.' I've got no complaints about the facilities. They're a lot better than some I've stayed in."
That is due in no small measure to the pressure that was applied on the Delhi Organising Committee by Hunter and other chefs de mission after being shocked by the state of the athletes' village at the start of last week. The official timing and results system has yet to be installed at all 11 Games venues but Hunter said: "We were given assurances this morning that providers were ready to push the button and that everything will be finalised over the next 24-48 hours. It's always the way at these major Games."
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