PARALYMPIANS PREPARE FOR LANDMARK EVENT
10 May 2005
David this weekend returned from the DSE Open Championships in Sheffield. His steely determination once again saw him secure a podium position with silver in the 400m freestyle, and he is looking hungrily towards Manchester, hoping to add a World Cup title to his extensive medal collection.
Swimmers from 28 countries will compete in intense competition in the pool, but it is Pontypridd’s most famous export who is most likely to send a shiver down the spine of the athletes he is up against. He takes to the water on Saturday in the 100m freestyle and 50m butterfly.
The multi world record holder has proven himself to be one to watch on the world stage, with a string of successes to his name. His Paralympic dreams came true in Sydney 2000 with three golds, three silvers and a bronze. It was in Athens 2004 though, where his burgeoning potential was fully realised with four gold medal swims, one silver and two world records.
David’s achievements were built upon strong foundations, laid by hour upon hour of rigorous training at the National Pool in Swansea. The £10.7 million building – which received significant funding from the Sports Council for Wales - is now home to David’s preparations for future success this year and beyond.
Another success story from the Swansea super-centre is Liz Johnson. Under the expert eye of coach Billy Pye – who also trains Paralympic medallists David Roberts and Gareth Duke– the 19 year old Swansea University student has made massive progress in recent years, with times that have secured her place in the performance ranks.
Using the DSE Open Swimming Championships last weekend as a warm up for the World Cup did little to dampen the ferocity with which Liz attacks her races. In the SB6 100m Breaststroke she stormed to a European record time of 1:42.98 - smashing almost one and a half seconds off the old mark.
Competing on Sunday in the 50m butterfly and 200m individual Medley, the Newport swim sensation faces some tough international competition. Not that she has any reason to be fazed by the world class field …
Despite her tender the years, Liz already boasts a Paralympic medal. In what was her first Paralympic outing, she added to Welsh swimming’s medal haul, returning from Athens with silver in the 100m breaststroke.
With a packed season ahead of her, Liz will have to keep the intensity high. Commonwealth trials are looming and she will be eager to secure her seat on the Melbourne bound flight in March 2006. Long term she has her eye on the 2006 World Championships in South Africa and the Beijing 2008 Paralympics.
To date the National Pool has proven to be a highly lucrative investment. Not only is it the training headquarters of Paralympic medallists David Roberts and Liz Johnson, English swimmers Jody Cundy and Graham Edmunds – who will both be racing in Manchester – have crossed the border to make the most of the celebrated facility.
And it wasn’t just the pool that drew the talented swimmers to the Swansea shore. Renowned coach Billy Pye was one of only two coaches to send five swimmers to the GB Paralympic team. Between them, they amassed 11 medals.
He was appointed by British Swimming as High Performance Coach two years ago. In that time, the former miner has built up the Disability Swimming High Performance Centre to be one of the best in Britain. He made the jump from coalface to poolside when the mines closed in 1986.
Pye and his team of swimmers have been in full training in readiness for the inaugural World Cup:
"It’s only the second international meet since Athens, so the event will be a good barometer to find out where we are. It offers a fantastic chance to pit ourselves against the top eight swimming nations and show what Wales are capable of."