One of many elder statesmen of the British Paralympics workforce, the 45-year-old talks about his plans for this month and past
Richard Whitehead had deliberate to step away from aggressive athletics after Tokyo 2020 however, one other yr older and wiser, he is aware of his place within the GB workforce for this summer season’s rescheduled Paralympic Video games is value greater than only a contribution to the medal tally.
That stated, his efficiency credentials are nonetheless spectacular. A T42 200m world record-holder (23.01) and Paralympic gold medallist in London 2012 and Rio 2016, he has additionally gained a bunch of world and European titles.
Not solely that, however off the monitor he’s an skilled, proficient endurance athlete and former marathon world record-holder in his class, with a finest of two:42:54 from the 2010 Chicago Marathon.
Whitehead could also be reaching the twilight years of his monitor profession, however his function inside the workforce, coupled together with his efficiency potential and indefatigable spirit, make Tokyo an attractive prospect regardless of – maybe even due to – its difficult backdrop.
“For me it’s about constructing relationships with athletes to allow them to belief me and speak about a few of the issues which are possibly making them anxious going into the Video games,” he says. “It’s good figuring out that I’m capable of reassure them and to supply them a bit of recommendation and help. I may speak to them about the best way to elevate their efficiency at Video games time.”
Introduced up within the village of Lowdham close to Nottingham, Whitehead is a double knee amputee. Along with his mother and father’ encouragement he developed a ardour for sport at an early age and commenced swimming when he was 4 years previous.
An aspiring marathon runner however proficient throughout a variety of occasions, his need to compete on the world stage and push boundaries led to him being chosen for the 2006 Winter Paralympic Video games in Turin in ice sledge hockey. Though the workforce didn’t win, he realized so much, particularly in regards to the significance of surrounding himself with the absolute best workforce.
These classes had been integral to his success on the 2012 Paralympics in London. Whereas the marathon was naturally his most popular occasion, there was no 26.2-mile possibility for Whitehead’s classification. He was compelled to show his consideration to sprinting – underneath the steering of a brand new coach – to provide himself the absolute best alternative to compete.
“I’ve had selections that haven’t gone my means, however I’ve used them as studying experiences,” says the 45-year-old.
“Liz and Martin Yelling [former GB marathon runner Liz Yelling who coached Whitehead prior to his move to sprinting and her husband Martin] had a large affect on my working profession and gave me the instruments to maneuver from marathon working to be dynamic sufficient to make it onto the 2012 workforce.
“After I first checked out working with Keith [current coach Keith Antoine] I felt like he may add worth to me as an individual, however we may additionally problem one another, which is essential. Keith’s skillset is huge and superb and we’re nonetheless discovering new areas to push athletically now.
“He’s an actual trailblazer inside athletics and his expertise round the best way to develop younger athletes, the best way to promote efficiency, in addition to the best way to develop athletes within the later levels of their careers, is invaluable.”
Stephen Hawking famously stated that “Intelligence is the power to adapt to vary”, and Whitehead is a working example.
Along with his transition from endurance occasions to sprinting, he was additionally moved from the T42 classification to a newly-created T61 class in 2018 by the Worldwide Paralympic Committee (IPC) as a part of various modifications which got here off the again of questions over whether or not the system was honest or strong.
Whitehead was crucial of the transfer on the time – and nonetheless has his considerations.
“In some areas I feel the IPC has actually misplaced its means in the best way to promote sport,” he says. “I went from T42 to T61 and, in consequence, it has diminished the numbers of athletes within the classification. There must be readability on why they’re making modifications.
“With Ntando [South Africa’s Ntando Mahlangu, the Rio 200m silver medallist behind Whitehead] and me being moved out of our class, it hasn’t moved ahead. When you have athletes which are aggressive and maintain pushing one another then you definately maintain shifting that class or that point ahead, however as a result of we’ve been taken out of that occasion it’s had an affect on the game. It’s irritating, however sooner or later you simply should assume f*ck it. You both swim down the river otherwise you get out.”
A preferred and revered determine each inside and out of doors of the game, Whitehead’s muscle-flexing victory pose has change into one thing of a trademark, extensively recognised as a present of defiance and related together with his perception that something is feasible.
That sentiment will proceed post-Tokyo, the place his power and focus will transfer to different tasks together with his recently-launched charity, the Richard Whitehead Basis, in addition to his younger household, though it’s solely attainable he may also proceed to compete.
“The core values and ethos of the Basis are about having an affect on the incapacity group but additionally educating the group round them,” explains Whitehead. “We wish to get folks extra energetic and concerned in sport, and to assist establish and take away obstacles to allow them to attain their full potential.”
Whereas the Basis was able to launch within the media frenzy that adopted London 2012, Whitehead held again so he may achieve extra expertise inside the charitable sector. Since then, he has labored with the humanitarian charity One Household in Syria and Jordan, along with a variety of charities within the UK.
Finally he needs to utilise his personal platform to complement different folks’s lives, whether or not it’s within the charity sector, by media, or in a performance-focused function inside sport.
As an skilled member of the British workforce, Whitehead is already enjoying his half in supporting the event of youthful athletes, however he wish to tackle a extra official efficiency function sooner or later.
“I’d need a function that will excite and problem me,” says the person says the person who additionally hosts a podcast, Monitor and Ball, with Manchester Metropolis and England footballer Ellen White. “I’m undecided it might be in athletics initially, however I’d should be on the monitor, or within the pool, or on the street the place I’m actually having an affect and making a distinction.”
Whitehead is concentrated and motivated, however not completely by medals. Like his contribution to the workforce, success is greater than a statistic.
“I feel athletics and sport usually is so centered on gold medals we’re dropping the actual purpose we acquired into the game, and that’s the enjoyment and the satisfaction of participating,” he says. “I consider strongly within the energy of sport as a terrific unifier and leveller. It has the power to unite folks and to create pleasure, whether or not you’re a participant or spectator, and its advantages throughout each bodily and psychological well being shouldn’t be underestimated.
“I’ve had so many nice reminiscences throughout my athletics profession and I’m happy with my performances and with the ability to share them. It’s particular isn’t it, while you’ve put in all of the work and also you’re capable of ship these performances?
“I at all times say to younger athletes who’re coming by that it’s not all about gold medals, nevertheless it’s about creating reminiscences you could share along with your workforce. Data can at all times be damaged, however they’ll by no means take away these races and people reminiscences.”
» This function first appeared within the August subject of AW journal which you should purchase right here