Eriksson is ever ready to guide athletes to golden Games

Former skater heads track-and-field team's pursuit of glory at the Olympic Stadium

As a one-time rival of Eric Heiden, Peter Eriksson appreciates the size of a challenge. In Heiden's case, they were the 27-inch tree-trunk thighs that powered the American to all five speed skating medals at the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid in 1980.

At 59, Eriksson is the coach in charge of the Great Britain team who start the track-and-field programme at the Paralympic Games today with great expectations on their shoulders. In his youth, the Swedish-born Canadian citizen was a speed skating rival and training partner of the formidable Heiden, who went on to become a Tour de France cyclist with the 7-Eleven team.

"I used to train with Eric in Madison, Wisconsin," Eriksson recalled. "It was like a big family, all the speed skaters training together.

"Eric was an exceptional athlete. It was hard to keep up with him. I actually skated against him in one of his world record races."

Eriksson also skated in two sprint World Championships. He finished 10th in the 500m in 1977.

Surely the experience of having competed at global level, and against an athlete regarded as one of the all-time greats, must be a help when it comes to his latest sporting mission: guiding the British Paralympic track-and-field team to a top eight finish?

"Well, yeah it does," Eriksson said. "The other thing that helps is that I started in athletics in 1980. I was an apprentice coach for the Swedish track-and-field team at the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

"Immediately after I was out of speed skating I was into track. I've been around in major events since 1980 – Paralympics and Olympic Games, World Championships and so on."

Eriksson is too modest to mention it but he happens to be the world's most successful Paralympics coach. He guided the Canadian wheelchair racer Chantal Peticlerc to 14 gold medals in four Games – in the process elevating her to superstar status in his adopted homeland.

In 2008 Peticlerc was awarded the Lou Marsh Trophy, the Canadian equivalent of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. Eriksson has enlisted her services as a mentor and coach in the build-up to the home Games – all part of a no-stone-unturned approach that has helped to transform the British Paralympic track-and-field squad.

In Beijing four years ago, Britain finished 18th on the athletics medal table with 17, just two of them gold.

At the International Paralympic Committee World Championships in Christchurch last year they were third in the medal table, behind China and Russia. They won 38 medals, 12 of them gold.

UK Athletics' decision to appoint Eriksson as Paralympic head coach in February 2009 and furnish him with the same level of support as Olympic head coach, Charles van Commenee, has paid tangible dividends already. "It's gone really well," Eriksson acknowledged. "I think we've stepped up the game.

"Our targets were set long ago. In 2008, the team finished 18th in the rankings, with two gold medals. We said from the start that our goal was to be top 10 at the World Championships in 2011, top eight at the Paralympics in 2012, and then move up to top three in 2016.

"To finish top eight in London we'll need five to eight gold medals approximately, and 23 to 28 medals in total. It is a big hike up from Beijing but we need to live up to the investment that UK Sport has given us.

"They have given us money to perform better and we need to live up to that investment. It's Lottery funding. It's people's taxes that we're living off."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower