One of Britain’s most successful swimmers, TV personality and inventor of the ground-breaking LEXI classification system, Giles Long MBE is a true entrepreneur. We asked him for the secrets of his success.
You were one of the first athletes to join the National Lottery funded Programme back in 1997. How did things change?
"For Paralympians, it enabled us to get a jump ahead of the rest of the world, and that’s one of the reasons we’re so good at Paralympic sport today, because we continued on an upward trajectory. In the early 90’s Paralympic sport was run on a shoestring by lots of willing volunteers. By today’s standards, you wouldn’t say that it was world class because sport in the UK has moved so far forward. It had just about improved as far as it could when all of a sudden this big jolt of cash came in and it enabled people to start training full time. For me it meant I was able to relocate to a club that was open to the idea that you could both have a disability but still have ambition and want to achieve in sport."
How do you think Paralympic sport has changed since you retired in 2007?
"I think the athletes, particularly post London, have started to believe in themselves. I don’t mean as individuals, they always had that, I’m talking about belief in the Paralympic movement, a belief that they have a genuine place in the public’s hearts and that they aren’t just a bolt on to the Olympics. Paralympians are now starting to come through and say 'I always wanted to go to the Paralympics.' People like Jonnie Peacock will have grown up with inspirational exposure to Paralympic Games like Sydney 2000, which was a breakthrough Games with nightly TV coverage. Ten years on from London 2012, that will be the real measure of the impact it’s had."
You are one of GB's most successful swimmers. What would your advice be to young athletes just starting out on the World Class Programme now?
"Sport exists as a vehicle for enjoyment, and if you don’t enjoy it and you think you’re going to go to the Olympics or Paralympics and win, you’re just not. If you don’t deep down enjoy something, how are you going to get out of bed at five in the morning in November when it’s sleeting and run around a track or get into a pool? Keeping that goal in mind and nurturing it is crucial, but do so realising that any sporting success is built on the foundation of enjoyment."
How influential was your coach on your success and were you aware of any support they were getting for their own development?
"I had four main coaches through my swimming career, and my performance was directly tracked to those coaches – up with the good ones, down with the bad ones. All of the stuff that my coaches were doing was not Paralympic specific, you need to be a coach with imagination in Paralympic sport. Less so these days because you have Conferences that bring Paralympic coaches together to share ideas now, but essentially it’s a collection of individuals working in isolation and coming up with their own ideas. Pre-National Lottery funding, sport in this country was in the doldrums. We turned a corner and we’re moving forward now."
You've succeeded both as an athlete and with the invention of LEXI, what's the secret to your success?
"There's a big word which is fashionable at the moment – agglomeration. If you bring different skills and experts from different fields together they feed off each other and inspire each other in tangential ways. That’s the secret of my sporting success. I had a swimming coach who understood how to be fit and strong, my parents had been very good sailors, and a lot of principles from sailing transfer over to swimming, and, weirdly, also in flight – my dad used to build a lot of model aeroplanes. So a lot of the principles of flight and sailing we applied to swimming. That was at a point when, if you were swimming butterfly with one arm, there was nothing you could read.
"My dad’s also a graphic designer; we’re a family big on drawing pictures. He always used to say to me, if you’ve got a lot to say and not a lot of time to say it, you need a picture, and that was where LEXI came from.
"I think perhaps one of the dangers we have in sport these days is that we ask people to be very narrow. Obviously we want people to be focused on their sport, but where are going to get the edge from? If you keep doing the same thing, then don’t expect to get different results.
"In swimming being tall is seen as an advantage, I’m not particularly tall, so I beat people by being technically better than them, and I did that by thinking around the problem, taking ideas from my dad - the way the sail works in the boat, the way the keel works in the boat – I applied that to my hands. Focus on your sport but think laterally and be open to new ideas all the time."
Where did the idea and inspiration for LEXI come from?
"It came from watching Sascha Kindred swim the final of the 100m breaststroke in Sydney. Sascha has a disability that affects one side of his body, and he was swimming against a Chinese athlete who’s got no arms. The race came down to the final 18 inches, and Sascha, who has arms, reached out, touched the wall, and won the race.
"When I got home, everyone kept saying to me how great this Chinese swimmer was, and I kept saying to everyone “Yes, but Sascha was better, that’s why he won!” I just thought, we’re never going to get anywhere with Paralympic sport unless people understand it.
"All classification is an extra layer of rules that create a framework for competition and is what makes it fair. Ask yourself 'Why do people watch TV?' and the answer is 'Because they want to be entertained', and when they are entertained, you can also educate them. Go too heavy on the education and they’ll start looking for another channel to watch. All LEXI has ever aimed to do is explain it, give some understanding so people can enjoy the sport and focus on cheering Great Britain on."
What’s the future of LEXI? Are there new innovations to come?
"London  proved that all people want to do is understand and make their own minds up about Paralympic sport. And why not? They do with every other sport.
"It was a big step to explain classification graphically on screen and unfortunately I can’t tell you too much yet about new innovations but we’ve got lots of ideas, from things like augmented reality, like they have on election night with Jon Snow, to dual screen and social media integration, and integrating TV coverage with coverage on mobile devices."
What's your proudest achievement?
"Three main achievements I think. First was coming through cancer with my sanity. It takes a long time to psychologically escape such a crushing low and I think I have now. Second has to be winning in Sydney; I’d had a rough couple of years, I’d suffered a lot of prejudice for my disability in sport and I’d managed to turn the situation around and come out on top. The third one is LEXI, 40 million people watched the London Paralympics in one form or another, so if just half had their view of disability changed by the London Games, and if something I invented played a part in that in changing the way 20 million people think, then that’s pretty cool."
Follow Giles on Twitter @gileslong
Giles Long was speaking at the launch of UK Sport’s new ParaCoach2Rio coach development initiative, which is part of "Project Para".