Harrison Walsh would like to see Paralympians receive prize money in the future

World Athletics has promised Olympic champions US $50,000 this summer.

Rachel Steinberg
Wednesday 22 May 2024 15:22 BST
Harrison Walsh is competing at his second world championships (ParalympicsGB handout/imagecomms)
Harrison Walsh is competing at his second world championships (ParalympicsGB handout/imagecomms)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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Welsh discus thrower Harrison Walsh is hopeful that Paralympians’ patience will one day pay off in the form of equal prize money to what World Athletics has promised Olympic champions this summer.

Last month, the governing body – which does not oversee para athletics – announced it would become the first international federation to offer a financial incentive for Olympic success, with gold medallists in each of the 48 athletics events in Paris set to take home US $50,000 and more money earmarked to include silver and bronze winners at Los Angeles 2028.

Walsh, who took home bronze in the F42-44/F61-64 discus throw at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and begins his challenge for a maiden world championship medal on Thursday, predicts a similar award for para athletes could strengthen the playing field, but remains realistic about how long it may take.

He told the PA news agency: “I think a lot of people would automatically say ‘oh, we need equal prize money’, and obviously long term I agree.

“It’s taken 120 years to come in (to the Olympics), so ships do take a long time and I don’t think you can expect it straight away.

“But of course I would like to see that in the future, and I think it is needed to attract as many athletes as possible. We don’t want people to guarantee medals, we want people to go there scared and excited that it can be taken off them.

“We want this as competitive as possible, and if prize money is a key to that, then that is exciting.”

The prize pot ring fenced by World Athletics comes from its revenue share from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a far richer organisation than the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), under which World Para Athletics is governed. 

Walsh, 28, once a promising former Wales Under-18 international and Ospreys development player, turned to throwing after a freak knee injury while playing for Swansea in 2015 ended his rugby career.

Walsh underwent surgery and was eventually advised not to continue playing rugby, warned by a specialist that there was even a “worst-case” risk of losing his lower leg if he were re-injured.

He admits it was a “complex challenge” to come to terms with his disability, going from “being this big, hairy rugby player that everyone knew in my village, then that goes. You’ve wrapped up sport and your physical ability in your identity, and you can walk down the street and you can feel like people are looking at you or judging you.”

Watching the fiercely competitive German Paralympic team at a meet was a massive turning point for his self-perception.

He said: “I realised this is why I want to be in it. It’s all about how you want to be treated and how you want to treat yourself at the same time. If you want to be the best athlete you can, you don’t need to wait for someone else to do it, you have to do it yourself.”

In 2019, Walsh threw a F44 shot put world record at the World Para Athletics Grand Prix in Italy, and in 2022 collected bronze in the F42-44/F61-64 discus at the Commonwealth Games.

He shared the podium with winner and compatriot Aled Davies, a three-time Paralympic champion who alongside six-time Paralympic medallist Dan Greaves motivate Walsh to “really pull (his) socks up” in his quest to conquer the world.

An ankle injury days before his would-be Paralympic debut ruled Walsh out of contention for the Tokyo 2020 Games, but he is now aiming for Paris, beginning with the world championships this week in Kobe, Japan, where the top two athletes in individual medal events can earn quota places for their countries.

Walsh finished fifth on world debut last year, but said: “A medal is definitely on the cards somewhere this year. I’m so excited.

“I’m truly, truly confident. When someone is having fun and enjoying, that is when you get the best out of them, and that’s what I am going to do this year.”

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