Paralympic World Cup: Crates makes the case for global recognition

Manchester can do London 2012 bid a favour by continuing the good work of staging major events
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The Independent Online

London's 2012 team may have blotted their bid book by making fairy-godfatherly offers potential Olympic voters would have found hard to refuse, but this month there is a golden opportunity for redemption, with a little help from their Manchester friends.

London's 2012 team may have blotted their bid book by making fairy-godfatherly offers potential Olympic voters would have found hard to refuse, but this month there is a golden opportunity for redemption, with a little help from their Manchester friends.

The city which has twice failed to get the Olympic Games for Britain hosts the last major multi-sports events to be held in this country before the crucial vote in Singapore on 6 July. The first Paralympic World Cup takes place in some of the venues that earned Manchester much acclaim during the Commonwealth Games of 2002, and London believe the after-glow of another successful event will reflect beneficially on London's prospects, again indicating to the IOC that when it comes to putting on a sporting show, no one does it better than the Brits.

Forty-seven nations, 344 competitors, four sports - athletics, cycling, swimming and wheelchair basketball - come together from 12 to 15 May in settings that are a legacy of the Commonwealth Games and a timely reminder that, given the chance, London's own proposed Olympic Park could be put to similarly worthy use for generations to come.

The World Cup has been guaranteed for Manchester for the next three years through the backing of the city itself, the North West Development Agency and UK Sport. Alan Pascoe, the chairman of the promotional company Fast Track, who are putting it together, and himself a London 2012 bid vice-chairman, says: "This is the sort of event that this country has always been good at. We hope it will further demonstrate Britain's lead in the Paralympic movement.

"It is a legacy of the Commonwealth Games where, for the first time, Paralympic events were integrated into the main programme. The Paralympics are playing an increasingly important role in the Olympics themselves and this will be a great opportunity to show the IOC how committed we are to disabled sport in this country."

After the last two Paralympic Games, in which Team GB finished second to Austra-lia in Sydney and then second to China in Athens with a total of 94 medals, there has been a sea change in the once patronising public perception. It has been orchestrated largely by Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson but also by some of the other personalities who will compete in Manchester and are pushing towards parity for the paras.

None more so than 33-year-old Danny Crates, the 800m runner from Essex who was one of Britain's 35 gold medallists in Athens. If London's bid for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, for which he is an ambassador, needs fresh inspiration, his story provides it. A county-class athlete and rugby player as a youngster, he lost his right arm in an horrific car accident while travelling in Queensland, Australia, 11 years ago.

He recalls: "I collided with a truck whose trailer ripped off the side of my car and my arm went with it, from the shoulder. The car ended up in a ditch and I actually got out carrying my arm. Luckily there was a house in the area and a woman who was there was able to help me until the ambulance arrived.

"I think the first thing I said to her was, 'It looks as if I've stuffed my rugby career'. Apart from losing the arm - it was so badly damaged there was no way they could sew it back on - I only needed 10 stitches, which was a bit disappointing really.

"I was out of hospital after 10 days but I spent the next six months partying. I call it my Jack Daniels period. I suppose I was in some sort of denial, but then my friends at Thurrock Rugby Club persuaded me to start training again, and I played my first game almost exactly a year after the accident. They got a special team together and I scored three tries against Gravesend. After that I started playing regularly for the third XV as a left-winger.

"Everyone knows how bad wingers can be at catching the ball, but my catching seemed to improve quite a bit with just one arm, even though I had been right-handed.

"Then, early in 1998, someone from the British Amputee Sports Association contacted me about going back to athletics, and I met with some of the amputees who had been in the Atlanta Games. That's when I started athletics again, first in the 400 metres and now in the 800."

His time of 1min 53.27sec in the Commonwealth Games is the best in the world for the T46 class - the event for arm amputees. He had also won a bronze medal in Sydney. "I had a chance of winning the gold, but messed up the race. Luckily I managed to get it right in Athens."

He says he finds it gratifying that the media no longer look on Paralympic sport as a curiosity, something to be viewed with patronising political correctness.

"It is interesting that I got slated by the media for not winning a gold medal in Sydney when I was expected to. I was annoyed at the time, but on reflection I realised that in fact it was a massive breakthrough for Paralympic sport, because I was being treated like a mainstream athlete. There was no false sympathy or anything like that.

"I made mistakes which cost me the race and people expected more from me, and it was right that I should be criticised. But I think Athens was the first time I could stand up and say, 'I am an athlete'."

Crates is a splendidly extro-vert character who supplements his Lottery funding with after-dinner speaking engagements. He likes to tell how, when he returned after his accident in Australia, he took a job at a Yarmouth aquarium, sometimes going into the tank which housed a seven-foot shark.

"You should have seen the kids' faces when they asked what had happened to my arm and I told them, 'That big bugger's had it'."

He also had what he amusingly calls a "bit part" with Russell Crowe in the film Gladiator. "They wanted as extras people who looked as if they had had their arms ripped off in fights, so I was ready-made for them. At least it didn't hurt as much as when it happened for real!" An even unkinder cut, he laughs, was that most of his thespian efforts as a dead body in the opening sequence were left on the cutting-room floor.

The BBC will be producing a 90-minute package on the Manchester event. You can bet that athletics' one-armed warrior will have a starring screen role in this one.

The Visa Paralympic World Cup takes place in Manchester from 12-15 May. For tickets and further information: 08708 300 200, www.paralympicworldcup.com

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