Today at the Games: Can Clarke crown record-breaking career by stopping brilliant Brazil?
British football pioneer aims to shoot down champions and their exciting winger Jefinho
Friday 31 August 2012
Brazil are hoping for their third consecutive Paralympic football gold medal as the five-a-side tournament starts at the Riverbank Arena today. However, Dave Clarke, the British goalscoring record holder, could end his career in perfect fashion by stopping them.
The success of the greatest football nation in the world should be no surprise. They won gold at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, as well as coming out on top at the 2010 World Championship and the 2011 Parapan American Games. Playing with characteristic technique and flair, Brazil's strength comes through the movement of their two wingers, Jefferson "Jefinho" Goncalves and Ricardo Alves. Jefinho is arguably the best in the world at this level, the star of the Beijing Games at just 18.
The game is for visually impaired footballers. All four outfield players must wear blindfolds to ensure there can be no sight advantage, although the goalkeeper can be fully or partially sighted and can help to direct his team-mates. There is a sound system within the ball so players can follow it, and the crowd are forbidden to make noises so as not to distract them. There are walls along the two sides of the pitch and no throw-ins.
Clarke, the captain of Team GB's five-a-side team, is delighted by the introduction of football to the Paralympic Games. At his first Games, in Atlanta 16 years ago, he was playing goalball, a three-a-side game, but he has always been a keen footballer and is eager to have the chance to play it and to challenge Brazil.
"I love goalball, it's a great sport to play," Clarke said. "Football has always been my passion. I got the opportunity to go for a trial in 1996, and I thought, 'This is the sport I love, this is the sport I'm best at and there is the opportunity here to build something'."
Clarke has a remarkable record at international level. He first represented his country in the 1987 European Championship in Milton Keynes and now, 25 years on, can boast a return of more than 100 international goals. He is the figurehead for the sport in Britain, and will be hoping to end his career on a high.
"I did want to take this fledgling sport forward in whatever way we could, and we've done that," Clarke said, looking back at his career. "I've always worked to help get my sport to a standard where it can be called elite, and to be thought of that way by the public and the media. This is a fantastic coincidence that it all comes together in London."
The chance to finish his career at a London Games is a great thrill for Clarke. "The whole spirit and the buzz of this place inspires you," he said of the Olympic Park. "I'm not the best at getting up every morning for work, but at the moment I'm just jumping out of bed because this is incredible."
How better to end a career than at a home Games? "We know it's a two-way thing here," he said. "One is performance, one is inspiration. I'm at the end of my career now, and this is an opportunity to show that our sport is an elite sport, and to showcase it to other blind kids who will say, 'I want to go and do that'."
Today's Brit watch
Stephen Miller - club throw
Having been on the podium at every Paralympics since 1996, Great Britain athletics co-captain Stephen Miller will be looking for gold in the F32 club throw, with the final at 10.05. The 32-year-old won silver in Beijing, but is hoping for a repeat of his gold medals in Atlanta, Sydney and Athens.
Hannah Cockcroft - athletics
Nicknamed "Hurricane", the reigning double world champion in the T34 100m will be hoping to beat rival Kristen Messer of the US, with the final at the Olympic Stadium at 20.18. The 20-year-old talent from Halifax also competes in the 200m, and is taking part in her first Paralympic Games.
Sam and Oliver Hynd - swimming
The Hynd brothers from Nottinghamshire go head-to-head in the S8 400m freestyle, with the heats beginning at 09.30, culminating in the final at 17.50. Sam, 21, won gold in the same event in Beijing, while Oliver, 17, may just be looking to spoil the party for his older brother.
Mark Colbourne - cycling
After becoming Great Britain's first medallist at the Games with a silver in the C1-2-3 one-kilometre time trial, the 42-year-old Welshman will be looking to go one better in the C1 individual pursuit. The qualifying begins in the Velodrome at 10.20, with the final scheduled for 15.45.
Matt Skelhon - shooting
Skelhon, aged 27, will compete in the R1 10m air rifle standing event at the Royal Artillery Barracks as a real contender after gold in the mixed air rifle prone in Beijing. From Stilton, Cambridgeshire, Skelhon will begin qualification at 09.00, with the final at 12.30.
He faces stiff competition from a strong pool of Chinese and Korean shooters.
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