The Paralympic Games in Tokyo finally begins this week as the opening ceremony takes place this coming Tuesday.
After an Olympics where Belper’s Hollie Pearne-Webb and Derby’s Anna Toman picked up bronze medals in the women’s hockey tournament, what of Derbyshire's chances of going even better in the Paralympics?
Well, we certainly do have medal contenders. Six athletes overall from Derbyshire will be in Japan looking to secure a medal to bring back home and we'll be having a quick preview of them all for you now.
First up, we have Hazel Chaisty who lives in Glossop. Chaisty is a para-archer who will be competing in the women's individual recurve event and also in the mixed team recurve along with team-mate David Phillips. Chaisty is hoping for a place in the top eight in her individual event but has said in an earlier interview with Derbyshire Media Company that she is certainly hopeful of a medal in the mixed team event.
This will be Chaisty's first Paralympics appearance after only taking up the sport seven years ago. She won the gold medal in the Recurve Women's Open event at the 2019 Fazza Para-Archery world ranking tournament in Dubai.
Next up, we have Ryan Cowling who is from Matlock. Cowling is part of Team GB's wheelchair rugby team. Like Chaisty, Cowling has also been interviewed previously by Derbyshire Media Company in the run-up to these Games. Cowling competed at the Rio Games in 2016 but is now looking to secure his first Paralympics medal at the upcoming Tokyo Games.
Cowling was a late starter to the sport. He's now 45 and jokingly refers to himself as the 'old man' of the team. Team GB find themselves in a tough group for the wheelchair rugby tournament and will have their work cut out if they are to finish inside the top two and qualify for the semi-finals. Team GB are in a group alongside Canada, New Zealand and The United States.
Next up, we have Dave Ellis from Derby who will be competing in the para-triathlon. Dave will be competing in the men’s PTVI category event along with his guide Luke Pollard. As Dave has less than 10% vision, Pollard guides him along all three disciplines of the para-triathlon race.
Ellis is a highly successful athlete who must have high hopes for his Tokyo campaign. The Derby man won the World and European titles at this event in 2013, 2017 and 2018. Unfortunately, the PTVI category was omitted from the Rio 2016 Games but is now back in for Tokyo.
We tried to interview Dave but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time for a chat before he had to head off to Tokyo. However, he did send us the following press release to be used for this article:
I’m really excited to be heading to my second Paralympic Games and first as a paratriathlete. This is what I’ve been aiming for ever since I joined the sport and I’m looking forward to being part of the Paralympic experience again.
“Having watched the Olympics I can’t wait to get to Tokyo and actually race. My preparation’s gone well and I feel I’m in a good place for what will be a tough race. We’ve got a great team of athletes and support staff travelling to Japan and I’m really looking forward to getting on the start line with Luke my guide.”
Next, we have Jack Shephard who is a para-badminton player from Chesterfield. Jack is already contributing to a bit of Paralympics history, as this will be the first Games that para-badminton has been involved in. Jack will be competing in the singles event in the SS6 category.
The 24 year-old former Derbyshire Institute of Sport athlete can certainly be regarded as a big medal prospect. Shephard won two gold medals at the 2017 para-badminton world championships and two gold medals at the 2018 European Championships.
The captain of Team GB's women's wheelchair basketball team is Maddie Thompson who is from Hope Valley and lives very close to Ladybower Reservoir.
Maddie competed at London 2012 at the age of just 17 but missed the Rio Games in 2016 after deciding to take some time off from the sport following the birth of her first child.
Team GB are currently ranked second in the world in women's wheelchair basketball and are another big medal prospect. Maddie plays her domestic wheelchair basketball for the Sheffield Steelers and started playing competitively at the age of just 13. Team GB's first game is just after half past six in the morning UK time this coming Wednesday.
Our final Derbyshire competitor is para-cyclist Ben Watson who is from Glossop.
Watson certainly has a busy schedule ahead of him in Tokyo as he will be cycling both on the road and in the velodrome.
On the road, Ben will be competing in the men's road race C3 category and in the men's time trial C3 category. In the velodrome, Watson can be found in the men's individual pursuit C3 category.
Ben is 32 and this will be his first Paralympic Games. He's picked up two World Championships bronze medals in the time trial event on the road.
So there you have it. It's a strong Derbyshire presence for the Paralympics and there's some real medal chances across a wide range of sports.
Don’t forget, you can also find in-depth feature articles on Ryan Cowling, Maddie Thompson and Hazel Chaisty on the Derbyshire Media Company website too.
We wish all our Derbyshire Paralympians the very best of luck!