David Weir: Seeking gold on wheels of fire
Wheelchair racer has two track titles to defend in London but above all wants to give the Games a golden grand finale, he tells Robin Scott-Elliot
It would paint the perfect golden full stop to Britain's extraordinary summer of sport. It began with Bradley Wiggins's splash of yellow, continued through an Olympics daubed red, white and blue and, if David Weir has his way, will end in a dozen days' time with the 33-year-old Londoner propelling his wheelchair past Buckingham Palace to claim the final British gold of 2012 in the marathon.
What has gone so gloriously before has provided an added inspiration for Weir. An avid cycling enthusiast – he describes his sport as cycling bound by the rules of athletics – he first watched Wiggins, one of his sporting heroes, journey around France as he prepared for the Paralympics at a training camp in Portugal. By the time Mo Farah raised the roof on the Olympic Stadium, Weir was back home and that provided the final piece of inspiration. Weir wants his share of the golden summer.
"It started back in the Tour, watching Bradley Wiggins," says Weir. "We have the same sort of technology, the aerodynamics and helmets. Watching that Tour inspired me as well to train that bit harder every day."
Then came Farah and the 10,000m, the high point of that first raucous Saturday evening in the Olympic Stadium. "I was inspired by it all," adds Weir. "I was very impressed with the crowd, seeing him run that last lap and not one person sitting on their seat. That put a smile on my face – the roar he got, the roar all British athletes got, even the ones that didn't medal. It's great to see and hopefully we are going to get that."
Weir is sitting in the British team's base on the edge of the Olympic Park, on top of the shopping centre that adjoins the sprawl of sporting arenas. Behind him the now familiar A-frame floodlights of the stadium point towards a gloomy sky. The gloom, though, does not pervade Britain's sporting bubble, regardless of that morning's ill-judged attack on the funding given the athletics team – of whom Weir is one – by the cyclist Jon-Allan Butterworth, who suggested athletics' poor return in Beijing should have seen their funding scrapped.
"He can say whatever he wants," says Weir and shrugs his indifference. "The funding we've had since Beijing has helped us win medals. In the world championships it wasn't just me who won gold medals it was six or seven others. He's probably said it at the wrong time."
Weir won Britain's only two gold medals in Beijing in what was a disappointing Games. But since Peter Eriksson took over as head coach, a year later, the improvement has been marked. The Swede, a former speed skater, is the most successful track and field coach in Paralympic history having successfully guided athletes from his home country, Canada, the United States and New Zealand as well as Britain.
At last year's world championships in New Zealand, Britain collected 38 medals to finish second in the table. For London, athletics has been set a target of 17-30 medals, and only swimming is expected to deliver more.
"The performance in New Zealand shows we jumped up to another level, showed the world that we are still a force in athletics," says Weir. "Hopefully we can go up another level and perform in a home Games. I'm pretty confident we can.
"The jump from the worlds is expectation, performance levels as well, people are pushing their limits because it's the Paralympics. Everyone will push their limits as well because it is a home Games – I can see us doing very well."
Weir is part of those predictions. He won four medals in all in Beijing and three golds in last year's world championships. In London he will race in four events again, defending the 800m and 1500m titles he won in Beijing and looking to match Farah in the 5,000m – he won bronze in 2008. He has dropped the 400m, in which he took silver four years ago, for the marathon, making for a seemingly exhausting schedule across eight days.
"Wheelchair racing is like cycling – that is why you can do so many events," he explains. "We can recover very well because we are on wheels. It's not like running where you are using every single muscle in your body. It's very similar to cycling but it's athletics rules."
That explains in part the affinity with Wiggins and those who shone in the Olympic Velodrome. Weir benefits from the same research and innovation team at UK Sport that helps kit out the cyclists with state-of-the-art equipment. Weir's helmet is similarly designed, while his racing chair is also modified, tinkered and improved as part of the marginal gains programme embraced by elite sport, be it Olympic or Paralympic.
One area where Weir will hold an edge is home advantage. This year he won his sixth London Marathon, equalling Tanni Grey-Thompson. In multi-event competitions, Weir would usually view the marathon as a possible add-on; get through the week and see how things are. But London will be different because of that final chance.
"I've trained for four events equally," he says. "Usually I concentrate on the track, but because it's 2012 and the marathon is the last race of the whole thing it would be great to do a great performance. Usually I do lots and lots of track and then I do the marathon if I want to. But I'm definitely going to do it. One gold and I'll be really happy."
And if that one gold produces the grandest of grand finales, then so much the better.
Fact file: Weir's way
Born 5 June 1979 with spinal cord transection that left him without the use of his legs.
Disability athletics classification T54
Honours Has won London Marathon six times (2002, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012). Holds the British record at all distances up to 5,000m, and on the road at 10km, half-marathon and marathon. Awarded the MBE in 2009.
Paralympics medal haul
Two golds: 800m, 1500m.
Silver: 400m. Bronze: 5000m
Silver: 100m. Bronze: 200m
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