By Owen Morgan
Olivia Breen will be the first of Wales’ magnificent seven track and field stars to compete when the athletics schedule gets underway at the Tokyo Paralympics.
The sprinter will take to the blocks in the early hours of Saturday morning when she lines up for the women’s T38 100m.
The heats start at 2:38am UK time and should Breen qualify, she would line up for the final at a minute after noon the same day.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, August 31, Breen will compete in the Women’s T38 long jump final which begins at 11am UK time.
This will be her third Paralympics having competed at the 2012 London Games and the 2016 event in Rio.
The 25-year-old has won a host of medals for Great Britain at European and World Championships over 100m and the long jump as well as gold, silver and bronze for Wales across the Glasgow and Gold Coast the Commonwealth Games.
Breen won bronze in the T38 long jump at World Para Athletics European Championships earlier this year and puts her good form this season down to an attitude adopted during lockdown.
The City of Portsmouth AC athlete says: “I moved back home to be with my family during lockdown, didn’t see my coach for six months but I just thought ‘Liv, use this opportunity, don’t waste your time, don’t stop training, use this to work on your weaknesses,’ and it made such a difference.
“I don’t think I would be running in the times I have been, and setting PBs, if I hadn’t adopted that attitude.
“I also feel that there is a big jump coming too – and I think it’s basically waiting for me in Tokyo!”
Next up will be Sabrina Fortune, who takes part in the Women’s F20 shot put final at 11am UK time on Sunday.
The Deeside athlete finished fourth at the Rio Paralympics but has since won gold at both the 2018 WPA European Championships and the World Para Athletics Championships in 2019.
Fortune says training for Tokyo has been going well and feels something special could be on the cards.
“It’s just all clicked in training, so I hope Tokyo will go well too,” says Fortune. I always tell people that it doesn’t matter what others throw as long as you beat yourself.
“For Tokyo I just want a PB. If a world record comes, or a gold medal comes, sure that will be amazing. I think I’ll just jump up and down for life if it happens, but I want a PB first!”
Monday, August 30, sees both shot-putter Kyron Duke and wheelchair athlete Harri Jenkins in action.
At 2.08am Duke competes in the men’s F41 shot put final. The Cwmbran athlete is in good form having won silver at the WPA European Championships in Poland earlier this year.
A veteran of two previous Paralympics, Duke also competed for Wales in the bench press at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
Since moving to athletics, Duke has won a clutch of medals in the shot put and javelin at both European and World Championships as well as IPC Grand Prix events.
Duke says a lot has changed since those early days, especially since he became a father last year: “I look on not just life but my career in a whole different aspect and angle compared to what I did back two, three, four years ago.
“I was professional but those Dad shoulders properly levelled me out and made me look and think at stuff in a whole different way.”
Shortly after Duke begins the shot put competition, Jenkins will line up in the men’s T33 100m final at 2.33am.
Dream come true and absolute honour to have been selected for my first Paralympic Games, can’t wait to get out there 🇯🇵 🏴 https://t.co/c7QiCJpjXH
— Harri Jenkins (@harrijenk) July 21, 2021
The Neath athlete was a member of the Great Britain wheelchair basketball team which won gold at the Under-22 European Championships in 2014.
Since taking up athletics he has won gold at the 2018 WPA European Championships and bronze medals at the 2019 World Championships and WPA European Championships earlier this year.
Jenkins described his selection for a first Paralympics as a “dream come true”. “Going to the Paralympic Games is what I have wanted my whole life.
“I’m in a good place and I am excited more than anything. I’m excited to get out there and just enjoy it.”
On Thursday, September 2, it’s Harrison Walsh’s turn to make his Paralympics debut.
The Mumbles thrower lines up in the men’s F64 discus final, which gets underway at 11.05am UK time.
Walsh has excelled in both the shot put and discus since taking up athletics after a freak injury ended a promising professional rugby career with the Ospreys.
Earlier this year, the former age grade international prop forward won a bronze medal in the discus at the WPA European Championships in Poland, which has whetted his appetite for the Paralympics.
“It was just the best feeling to be at the recent European Championships with the GB team,” says Walsh. “I competed really well in Poland, so now I’m just excited to go to Tokyo and show the world what I am about.”
At the other end of the experience scale, Hollie Arnold enters the fray in the women’s F46 javelin on Friday, September 3 at 11.28am.
Arnold is heading to her fourth Paralympics and will be defending her title in Tokyo having won gold in Rio with a world record throw.
The Grimsby born athlete, who moved to Wales when she was 16, has won gold at the last four World Championships and claimed gold for Wales at the 2018 Commonwealth Games with another world record breaking throw.
Arnold, who appeared in last year’s series of “I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here”, says of the upcoming Paralympics: “It all comes down to those six throws and if you can’t enjoy yourself while you’re in that moment and focus and concentration, then why do it?
“I really learnt a lot from last year to take on Tokyo but yeah, I’m going to go out there and hopefully do my absolute best and I certainly won’t give up without fight.”
The penultimate day of the Paralympic athletics schedule on Saturday, September 4, sees another Welsh defending champion take centre stage. Aled Davies competes in the men’s shot put F63 final at 11.44am.
The GB athletics team joint captain won gold in the F42 shot put last time around and will also be looking to add to the gold he won at the 2012 London Games in the F42 discus.
The Bridgend born thrower has enjoyed a glittering career which has seen him win seven gold medals between the shot put and discus at the past four World Championships.
He also has seven European Championship gold medals and a Commonwealth Games silver medal won at the 2014 Glasgow games.
Such a stellar career makes Davies the man to beat in Tokyo, but he says: “I know people have pinned me as favourite and the man to beat but nothing beats getting your name down on that team sheet and knowing you’re on the flight.
“Covid has been the biggest challenge for any professional athlete in my opinion. All I could think is ‘right, what can we do here’. I created a space to train, quickly converted the garage into a gym and built a circle in my garden, throwing into some cargo nets, hung down some top pads on some trees.”
“I love what I do but the pressure of always having to deliver, it weighs you down and no one is superhuman. When it was taken away [due to Covid] it made me realise, you know what, I’m lucky here, I have the dream job that I’m good at and I’m not ready for it to stop.
Let the games begin!
Still prepping here in Yokohama but it’s great to see our team looking ready for war 😤
— Aled Sion Davies (@AledDavies2012) August 24, 2021
“I can’t wait to get out there and do what, I believe, it might be cheesy, but it’s what I was born to do. This has literally been my job and I feel very privileged. Despite everything that’s going on, we are part of history, wherever the Games is.
“People are going to look back and they will remember this. I’m just hoping I can leave my mark over in Tokyo and bring home the right colour!”
You can find out more about all of Wales’ 21 Paralympic competitors, as well as the seven track and field stars, at Disability Sport Wales’ comprehensive round-up https://tokyo2020.disabilitysportwales.com/
As well as a day to day schedule there are full video interviews with all the Welsh competitors along with extensive profiles.
You can watch the action from Tokyo on Channel 4 and find out more information at https://paralympics.channel4.com