McGlynn pushes the boundaries back

Paralympic World Cup: Differences with the able-bodied are rapidly eroding, as Glasgow cyclist is proving
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The Independent Online

Wayne Rooney's toe woe may signify the end of the world, or at least the World Cup, for the citizens of Manchester and beyond, but a refreshing sense of normality pervades down the road from Old Trafford at Sport City, where hundreds of athletes from an assortment of nations have been doing their thing all week in pursuit of medals in another World Cup.

In this, a broken metatarsal or two would be considered an irrelevance, as many of the competitors do not have limbs to fracture. This is the second year of the Visa Paralympic World Cup, an event which went some way towards convincing the International Olympic Committee that when it comes to putting on a sporting show, no one does it better than the Brits.

And if nothing else it is one which confirms that in this country sport finally is for all, able-bodied or otherwise. OK, so the crowds could be bigger, but the gleeful enthusiasm of the participants is matched by an unpatronising audience who seem to appreciate that what is on offer may be different, but ultimately is fascinating entertainment. There may be physical and visual impairments but these are athletes who train and strive as hard as their able-bodied contemporaries - in some cases much harder.

Paralympians are becoming personalities too, as media coverage increases. The BBC have certainly given them a make-over. Today Grandstand has a two-and-a-half hour package which includes live coverage of the concluding track-and-field event featuring sport's first bionic man, the South African Oscar Pistorius, who sprints on two carbon-fibre prosthetic legs at a speed which was good enough for him to finish sixth in his able-bodied national championships. The Springbok "blade runner" even harbours hopes of being able to participate in the real deal in the Beijing Olympics.

The differences between disabled and able-bodied achievements are beginning to erode, perhaps no more so than in cycling. Take Aileen McGlynn. As a Paralympian she may not have as high a profile as Tanni Grey-Thompson, but her pedal power is formidable. On Friday night she was zipping around Manchester's Velodrome on a tandem behind her "pilot", Ellen Hunter, taking half a second off their 1km time-trial record. The pair are gold medallists from Athens and 200m world record holders. Yet the 33-year-old Glaswegian McGlynn's vision is so impaired that she laughs she will have to find a huge magnifying glass to read this article.

The former world champion and now BBC commentator Hugh Porter is lost in admiration. "I've always said that to go round a velodrome on a tandem you need your brains tested. But when you can hardly see..."

McGlynn, who has been partially sighted from birth, joined a cycling club at 18 but kept her eyesight problem to herself because she did not want to be left behind when others went on rides. "Eventually they did suss me out but at least they didn't kick me out," she says. After university she began work as a trainee actuary, leaving the sport for eight years, but was spurred to return to it by Chris Hoy's gold medal for Scotland in the Manchester Commonwealth Games.

She was invited to try out on a tandem with a male partner and two days later broke the world record for a mixed event. The rules were then changed and she had to find a female pilot, breaking another world record - the 200m - when teaming up with Hunter. However, just as things were looking good Hunter, when racing on her own bike in London, was involved in a crash and broke her back. Doctors said she would never ride again, but after a few months she was back. The pair went off to Athens and won Britain's first-ever Paralympic gold in the 1km time trial.

Despite being barely able to see the traffic McGlynn, who gave up her job in February to compete full-time, regularly trains in the streets of Glasgow. The only serious accident she has had came when she was at a standstill at traffic lights. She had been doing a publicity photo-shoot in a park, had mud on her cycling shoes and slipped on the pedal as she was about to take off again. "I went over the handlebars and spent eight hours in casualty getting a split eyebrow stitched." McGlynn says she would be gutted if she could not cycle. "It really gives me a buzz. It's my life."

It is a sentiment echoed about their sporting involvement by everyone competing in Manchester, which is why Britain's leading role in the Paralympic movement is so commendable. Yet not everything is hunky-dory. Because of the mainstreaming of 80 per cent of disabled children into state schools, most do not get the same chance to take part in sporting lessons.Too often they are sidelined, and the talent base for 2012 is in danger of being lost. One wonders why, with the changed perception towards sport and the disabled, there is no thought being given to a Paralympic Sports Institute to be established within the existing national institutes. Over to you, Mr Caborn.

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