Ben Rushgrove: 'Every day we tread that line. To perform well when it matters, you take risks'

From racing around the playground to silver in Beijing, Ben Rushgrove tells Robin Scott-Elliot how he's pushing for gold
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The Independent Online

After five decades of moulding a succession of Olympic and world champions, Malcolm Arnold knows what it takes to succeed. "Winning means you are willing to go longer, work harder and give more than anyone else," says the man behind Dai Greene's Daegu triumph. It is an approach Ben Rushgrove is determined to match in order to find the few hundredths of a second that will allow him to turn a Beijing silver into London gold.

"I get two weeks off a year – that's it," says Rushgrove. "The rest of the time I'm basically training until it hurts. I got up this morning and could hardly feel my legs because they were tingling away like crazy because yesterday I went to the gym and did squats until they died on me. But the reward is just fantastic – to be able to say that you're Paralympic champion one day would just be epic."

Like Greene and Arnold, Rushgrove is based in Bath, one of the hubs of British athletics, and their paths will occasionally cross as the preparations for London intensify over the next few months. Rushgrove will be taking a rather less publicised route to the capital but it will be no less gruelling.

"There is definitely a line and everyday we tread that line," says Rushgrove, who has suffered from injury throughout a career that saw him break the world record for the 200m in his classification as a 19-year-old. "That's just the way my body is built. We could adopt the cautious approach but the trouble with that is you don't perform as well when it matters. So you take the risks. Coaching is basically about risk management. The coach knows you inside out."

Rushgrove, who has cerebral palsy, is coached by Rob Ellchuk, a Canadian who oversees several of the British Paralympic athletes at their base at the University of Bath. "You go out on the track and put your confidence in the coach and so far the programme is working. At every single major competition we have been to we've done a PB," says Rushgrove.

Bath born and bred, it was when he was switched to a specialist school for disabled children in Hampshire that his Paralympic potential was spotted. "I used to run around the playground because I was bored – and it was quicker than walking. This PE teacher saw me and invited me to join the athletics squad. I had gone to an able bodied school so I had never thought of myself as fast. At that age I was particularly uncoordinated. I wasn't very strong, not compared to other kids. She was able to see that I had talent."

He was 13 – six years later he was breaking a world record. A year later he was in Beijing. "I went to Beijing and I wasn't sure what to expect," says Rushgrove. "I was a young athlete, I'd been to a world champs but the Paralympics are just a whole new level. They take what is in effect quite an amateur sport and turn it into a professional endeavour with real value for real people. It's just fantastic. After Beijing I got the bug and I want more."

A foot injury forced him out of the 200m, for which he was favourite. In the 100m he finished second to the Ukrainian Roman Pavlyk and just ahead of So Wa Wai of Hong Kong. At this year's world championships, the result was reversed – with Rushgrove still the man in the middle. And all three will be in London to renew their rivalry.

"Pavlyk came third by one one-hundredth of a second," says Rushgrove. "The margins of error in this game are nothing. I ran the 100m in a European record time, the only guy to beat me was So, the world record holder. He'll be in London – he came third in Beijing so he is beatable. My race is so competitive – it's brilliant. I love it.

"If I was winning by miles I'm not convinced I would train as hard as I do. I like the fact that we are pushing the edge, finding the boundaries every day. That's exciting, what keeps me going, what keeps my brain sharp.

"The feeling when I won silver was great – if I was to win gold? Amazing. What's so special for me is that I have this opportunity to do it. Most people would kill for the opportunity I have at the moment. I am determined not to throw it away – I'm determined to make the most of it."