FIRST MINISTER HONOURS WELSH PARALYMPIANS

2 Jul 2006

Tanni Grey ThompsonFirst Minister Rhodri Morgan today honoured the Welsh contingent that will be competing as part of the Great Britain team at the Athens Paralympics this summer.

With hopes riding high for podium places, 23 sportsmen and women from Wales have been selected by the British Paralympic Association.

Only Wrexham’s Jason Roberts must now face an agonising wait before he too can celebrate selection. Already put forward by the Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby Association, he now awaits British Paralympic Association ratification.

The First Minister said, "To achieve selection for the Paralympic Games is an enormous honour and I want to thank our sportsmen and women for their hard work. I know that they will fly the flag for Wales this summer and contribute hugely to Team GB."

Although Tanni Grey-Thompson - Britain’s most successful Paralympian – could not attend this morning’s reception at the Welsh Institute of Sport in Cardiff, Mr Morgan discovered a whole host of stars set to impress this summer.

The team features champions who proved their midas touch in Sydney four years ago. Emma Brown, David Roberts, Lloyd Upsdell and Nicola Tustain are just a few of those vying to retain their titles.

Welsh competitors make up approximately14 per cent of the British team which, Mr Morgan believes, demonstrates Wales’ ability to punch above its weight in élite disability sport.

In 2000, Wales dispatched 18 sportspeople to the Sydney Paralympics which made up 8% of Team GB. They returned with 26 medals – 20% of the British medal haul.

Mr Morgan added:

"Not only has Welsh representation in Team GB increased since 2000, but just under half of the Welsh competitors will be making their Paralympic debut which shows that Wales has the ability to produce talent and that certainly augurs well for Beijing and beyond."

At just 16 years old, the youngest competitor from Wales is discus thrower Claire Williams of Carmarthen. Already, she is tipped for success in Athens.

The First Minister was joined by Phil Lane –Britain’s Chef de Mission for Athens. He too is impressed by the Welsh talents:

"Wales boasts an impressive production line of talented stars. This is not luck – the athletes are hugely committed and much hard work has gone into identifying and grooming stars of the future, nurturing and motivating current champions as well as increasing participation at the grassroots level by the Federation of Disability Sport Wales and the Sports Council for Wales.

"Wales is very well represented in the British team and I look forward to witnessing their achievements in Athens," he added.

According to Jon Morgan, Director of the Federation of Disability Sport Wales, Welsh representation at the Beijing Games in 2008 already looks promising:

"We have a number of athletes too young to compete in Athens but they are already showing incredible promise. If they continue to strive and we can continue to cultivate their talents, Welsh disability sport is set to achieve at the highest level for some years to come."