Ade Adepitan: 'When people see the Paralympics, they'll respect the athletes'


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The Independent Online

This year's Paralympics will be on a par with the Olympics Look at the T54 wheelchair record for 5,000m and you'll see it's almost three minutes faster than the able-bodied record; or look at the world number-one wheelchair tennis player Stéphane Houdet, who serves at 100mph. When people see performances like those they will start realising that it's a serious spectacle, and they will start respecting these performers as athletes.

Oscar Pistorius's blades don't give him an advantage [The South African 400m runner will be the first amputee to compete on track at the Olympics.] I've had this conversation with a lot of Olympians and I tell them that anyone who knows anything about the technology knows that his blades are primitive, and that they have been kept primitive on purpose, to ensure they don't give him an unfair advantage over able-bodied athletes.

My father thought I was wasting my life playing wheelchair basketball He'd say, "This is crazy, how are you going to make a living?" It led to a breakdown in our relationship and I left home at 17. I understand now why he was like that – he wanted academia for me, as back then they didn't think that making a career from the sport was possible. But in taking that risk I think I broke down boundaries for others to follow after me.

Sitting in a wheelchair sends out connotations even today People seem to think you're less smart somehow – and if you're playing sport in a wheelchair it's often seen as a second- class sport. It's why many ex-servicemen amputees gravitate towards sports where they don't need a wheelchair.

I once gave up on my dreams of becoming a Paralympian I'd tried five times for the European and World Championships and when I failed to get selected for Barcelona [Paralympic Games in 1996], I thought that's it, I'm not good enough. Then I was convinced by friends to play one more tournament, in Cyprus, in 1998. They said, "Stop focusing on basketball with just the Paralympics in mind, focus on all the reasons you started in the first place." Sometimes, as you grow up, you lose your enthusiasm; I'd become robotic but from then on, I relaxed and learnt to be more creative. [Adepitan was subsequently selected for the Paralympics in 2000.]

You have to love food as an athlete You have to eat so many carbohydrates and proteins while training. But when I stopped competing I still had the same appetite, which was hard to adjust to. Now, the only thing that stops me being over weight is vanity. So if I want to eat something naughty, say, pancakes and maple syrup, I know I have to train for a few hours.

Ade Adepitan, 39, is a TV presenter and former Paralympic wheelchair basketball medallist, winning bronze with the GB team at the 2004 Summer Paralympics and gold at the 2005 Paralympic World Cup. He will be part of the presenting team at this year's Paralympic Games, on Channel 4, from 29 August