Ten ParalympicsGB unsung heroes who can shine at the Tokyo Games
Thomas Young (T38 100m)
Young won silver at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, where he was beaten by China’s Zhu Dening on a photo-finish, and the 21-year-old has improved since then – he successfully defended his European championships gold in Poland in June, running the fastest time in the world this year (having also run the fastest time last year, and the joint fastest with Zhu in 2019). Born in Croydon, Young is now based in Loughborough, where he trains under Joe McDonnell, with the returning Paralympic sprint champions Libby Clegg and Sophie Hahn.
Chris Skelley (-100kg judo)
At 28 Skelley is attempting to upgrade an entirely monochrome medal collection, having won bronze at the European championships of 2015, 2017 and 2019 as well as the 2018 world championships and 2015 World Games. He was one win from equalling those achievements at his first Paralympics in 2016, but comes into these Games after two years as world No 1 and is the leading hope of a judo team that also includes Elliot Stewart, whose father Dennis won judo bronze at the 1988 Olympics, in the -95kg category. “I was gutted, I’ll be honest, that I didn’t get a medal,” Chris says of Rio. “That really did hurt me. It’s a fire that’s in my belly. It really does motivate you, knowing you’ve come so close.”
Sabrina Fortune (F20 shot put)
Fortune’s brother, Chris, used to be the athlete in the family, but Sabrina grew “sick and tired of sitting in the car not doing anything” after travelling to support him in competitions and so turned her hand first to discus and then to the shot put. She won bronze in Rio and gold at the 2019 world championships – “I didn’t think the throw was enough. I thought it was rubbish,” she said after the final effort of the event brought her victory – and after spending lockdown training in a local quarry comes into these Games as favourite to top the podium once again.
Megan Shackleton (class 4 table tennis)
Shackleton narrowly missed out on a place in Rio but “trusted in the process that in four years’ time it would all work out for me” and is now among the favourites for gold, both in the class 4 singles and in the class 4-5 team event, in which she will play alongside 48-year-old Sue Bailey, for whom this is a sixth Games. “It means so much to me after years of growing up watching my idols on screen and imagining myself in the team kit, to have actually earned my own kit and to be representing Great Britain at the pinnacle of my sport,” says Shackleton.
Claire Cashmore (PTS5 triathlon)
One of Britain’s most experienced Paralympians, Cashmore made her debut as a 16-year-old swimmer in Athens in 2004, switching to triathlon only after four Games in which she won four bronze medals, three silvers and finally a gold in Rio. Not bad given that she admits she “didn’t like swimming much as a kid”. “I loved every other sport,” she says “but swimming I was pretty scared of.” She travels to Tokyo with her partner, Dave Ellis, who will compete in the PTVI (vision impaired) triathlon.
Alfie Hewett (wheelchair tennis)
In 2016 Hewett won doubles silver and then lost the singles final to his doubles partner, Gordon Reid. Both return for Tokyo, joint top of the doubles rankings but with Hewett now seen as the better bet in the singles, where only Japan’s Shingo Kunieda outranks him. Already this year he and Reid have won the doubles at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, putting them on course for a golden slam, while at 23 Hewett won his third Roland Garros singles title in June, beating Kunieda in straight sets in the final (as he had at the Australian Open in February, and at July’s British Open). “It’s an incredibly tough ask for me to go there and get two golds, as much as I dream of it,” he said. “As much as I’ve been among the most consistent performers, there are no guarantees.”
Jonathan Broom-Edwards (T64 high jump)
A run of second-place finishes at European and world championships, capped by a silver medal at Rio in 2016, might have made Broom-Edwards feel he was forever destined to bethe best man and never the groom. But he made the breakthrough to the top step of the podium at the 2019 world championships in Dubai and is hoping to push on again. “The aim is to win, and that’s what I have been gearing towards for a few years,” he says. “I am in really good shape and I suppose it’s all about getting it right on the day. I have jumped the highest this year and I am aiming to jump my best, that’s all I can do.”
Maria Lyle (T35 100m and 200m)
In 2014, aged only 14, Lyle broke world records in both 100m and 200m, but then “new people came along and my world records were completely obliterated”. European championships gold medals at both distances in 2014 and 2016 were followed by a pair of bronzes in Rio, but she came back to take two golds at the 2019 world championships. Now 21, Lyle is studying sports coaching at university with an eye on a future career. She says she is “definitely a bit more affected with my cerebral palsy than I was at 15”, but is hoping for more gold in Tokyo. “I am a better athlete than in 2016,” she says. “It would be nice to think I can get golds.”
Charlotte Henshaw (KL1 canoe)
This will be Henshaw’s fourth Paralympics, but the first at which she will compete on the water rather than in it. She was a swimmer in 2008, 2012 and 2016, winning breaststroke silver in London and bronze in Rio, but shortly after her return from Brazil she was identified as an athlete of potential by British Canoeing and in 2017 fully switched focus from pool to boat. She has been even more successful since, winning world titles in 2018 and 2019, and is hotly tipped for gold in Tokyo. She is not the only multidisciplinarian in Britain’s paracanoe squad, which also includes Laura Sugar, a member of the track sprint team in Rio, and Dave Phillipson, who was in the wheelchair tennis squad in Beijing, London and Rio.
Jack Shephard (SH6 badminton)
Shephard is the world No 1 in his classification, having won the world title in 2017 – just five years after both legs were broken in two places in an attempt to straighten them, forcing him to spend nine months in a wheelchair – and again in 2019, success that sandwiched individual and doubles gold at the 2018 European championships. “It was quite brutal trying to get back to fitness, but I learned to accept the bad days and to use the bad days to come back stronger,” he says. “I look back on my experiences and I feel like I will be able to use them to give me the edge.” Britain’s four-person team for the badminton, which makes its Paralympic debut in Tokyo, also includes Dan Bethell, ranked world No 2 in the men’s SL3.