British Paralympics chief Phil Lane described his team’s performance at the Beijing 2008 Games as “exceptional” today.
Lane urged his team to “scrap for top three” before the Games began on 7 September. But with 42 gold medals and 102 in total, ParalympicsGB’s athletes finished second in the medal table for the third Paralympic Games in succession, behind China but ahead of USA, Ukraine and Australia.
In the first few days Britain even vied with the host nation for first place overall, and at the close of the Games sit top of the road and track cycling, equestrian and rowing gold medal tables, are second in archery, third in tennis, and fourth in boccia and swimming.
“I think by anyone’s standards our performance has been impressive,” said Lane. “China has made a huge investment in Paralympic sport. For us to have managed to stay on their coat tails is extraordinary.”
The team’s performance was an improvement on Athens where Britain finished second with 94 medals including 35 golds. A number of experienced Paralympians returned to match or better their previous achievements, while the talent of some emerging youngsters came to the fore in Beijing.
With four gold medals and a silver, cyclist Darren Kenny was Britain’s most successful individual competitor, while swimmer David Roberts took his overall Paralympic medal haul to 11 with four golds in the Water Cube, and Lee Pearson won three more equestrian golds to take his personal tally to nine.
At the other end of the experience scale, GB’s youngest team member Eleanor Simmonds swam out of her skin to win two golds in the pool at the age of 13 becoming Britain’s youngest ever individual champion.
“Athletes such as David Roberts, Darren Kenny and Lee Pearson have reproduced their performances from Athens which is exceptional,” said Lane. “A dozen others have won two golds, and for a 13-year-old to win two golds is fabulous.
“Many of our champions have defended titles and there are a whole range of people who have stepped up and won gold medals.”
In total 80 athletes return home as Paralympic medallists, 30 with at least one gold to their name, 26 with silver and 39 bronze.
Now, with the curtain about to drop on Beijing, attention is already turning to London in four years’ time. Some 58 per cent of the 206 British Paralympians in China were first-timers, and the performances of younger competitors at the 2008 Games point towards further success in 2012.
“Many of our young people in the squad have achieved personal bests and season’s bests,” Lane said. “This has been a great experience for them and will stand them in good stead for the future.”
This evening Mayor of London Boris Johnson will receive the Paralympic flag at the Closing Ceremony in the Bird’s Nest stadium as London takes over as the next host city of the Paralympic Games.
Johnson said he was “lost in admiration and awe for the achievements of the British team”.
“Their fantastic achievements have surpassed the country’s wildest expectations, adding to the pride we all felt watching TeamGB reel in their haul of medals last month,” he said.
“They have delivered for us – now we must deliver for them, and for all disabled Londoners and visitors. Our team have tremendous heart and ability. It is up to us to provide the infrastructure so that they can excel. I have no doubt we will.
“Beijing gives us a superb challenge and a fantastic platform to go forward. We will work to make sure London is the most accessible Games ever.”
Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell also praised the British team.
“We will leave Beijing with a great sense of thrill and uplift,” she said. “There are many lessons we must apply rigorously. From our athletes we have learned about working as a team, that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
“The Paralympic Games in many ways has set the bar even higher than the Olympics.”