Dan West: ‘In Atlanta they tore it apart after the Olympics, it’s a lot different now’
There’s something about Dan West which is perhaps best described as an athletics-specific je ne sais quoi: he’s never the centre of attention but he’s always present; he’s rarely celebrated but commonly successful, and he’s quiet but confident. He’s also a figure of experience in a squad of enthusiastic juniors mixed with seasoned internationalists.
West has been to four Paralympic Games and medalled on three occasions and he’s currently ranked second in the world in the shot putt with 11.37m and 11th in the discus. He’ll be 34 by the time of next year’s London 2012 Paralympic Games, but – with good reason – he thinks his best is still to come.
The World Championships silver medallist has enjoyed competing in world class track and field athletics for a decade and a half and has seen a significant transition in Paralympic sport over that period, defined, it seems, by his Paralympic Games debut in Atlanta, 1996.
“Ah (he laughs), that was the time we had to unblock the toilets with coat hangers and the electrics were a mess, it was like they’d torn the place apart after the Olympics, that’s a big difference between then and now.
“I learned a lot in Atlanta, I went into the Games as joint World Record holder in the shot putt and I was quite confident I’d win but I got my backside kicked. It made me realise I wasn’t quite what I thought and my training levels weren’t quite what they should have been.. I won bronze, but I only got it on count back, and I was eighth in the discus.”
His dual event focus continued through the next Olympiad but arguably, his perception of success was radically altered when he bounced back to claim a sole discus bronze in Sydney in 2000 – his only event on that occasion – in spite of his admission that going into the event he “wasn’t all that good.”
“The shot putt was cancelled in the weeks leading into the event and my focus shifted entirely,” he says. “If I never won another Paralympic medal then Sydney will go down as one of my best, one that I’m most proud of, as I beat the Australian (Hamish McDonald) in his own country. I only managed to catch one throw and he was really consistent, but he finished fourth.”
“Up until that point, and even recently, I’d always done both events and if one faltered then the other stepped up, but it’s a combination of factors that have contributed to my progress most recently; for example, in Beijing I had a bad competition and I realised that I had to change coach. I moved to Mark Edwards in Loughborough, before eventually moving to Jim Edwards, and I needed to start enjoying the sport again. I totally committed to it and moved everything from my previous training base in Nottingham. Now I’m with Jim I wish I’d made that move years ago.”
Older and wiser, West knows that his chance of gold in London lies with his commitment to one event, and it’s a view shared by UKA’s Head Coach Peter Eriksson: “Peter now wants me to throw as far as I can in the shot putt, so that’s what I’m focused on,” he admits.
And ultimately, focus and determination – in addition to being in control of his performance – were why he chose athletics over wheelchair basketball and swimming in his early sporting days. “I enjoyed the training for athletics,” he says. “Wheelchair basketball annoyed me because you could play a blinder and if the other four played badly you’d all suffer, but if you throw well you know where the credit lies.”
He places importance on the quality of competition and the standard of his training partners, and credits the increased domestic competition opportunities which include international opposition, with pushing performance standards. His own training group, which includes World Champion and World Record holder Dan Greaves (F44 discus) and World Junior Champion Kieran Tscherniawsky (F33 discus), is also integral to his continued development and belief that he can exceed his lifetime best in London.
Jonathan Adams, a double silver medallist in the shot putt and discus at the World Junior Championships (F34) will also offer a welcome addition to the strong squad under the mentorship of Edwards in Loughborough.
“I’m pretty sure he’ll push me on,” says West. “Two of the best throws I’ve had this year have been in competitions alongside him.”
That, coupled with the fact that his coach has changed the way he prepares for competitions and keeps things as simple as possible, has been key to his continued presence and success on the global stage.
It’s not all about him though, and the close knit training group in Loughborough has brought out his selfless side. It’s a little known fact, for example, that he opted to compete in two events at the 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships primarily for the benefit of his junior training partner Tscherniawsky, rather than for glory. It was arguably an even more significant choice when considering the success of his one event theory which had been proven so recently with shot putt silver in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
“The only reason I competed in the discus in New Zealand was to be there for Kieran (Tscherniawsky),” he admits, having finished 13th but securing silver in the shot putt. “It was his first senior Championships and he hadn’t ever travelled outside of Europe, it was a huge experience for him and I just thought I should be there for him…I should have thrown better myself though.”
“Overall New Zealand was the best competition of my life, the best competition I’ve ever been at and the really good performances we had there have continued right through the summer.
“With Peter (Eriksson) you know you’ve got to perform, but he also wants you to relax and enjoy yourself. The juniors – like Kieran – brought something new to it, although a few of them are still developing and have a lot to learn. Overall the team is looking good and without doubt we’re the best prepared team I’ve been part of.”
His last word is about his own performance, when, somewhat surprised – possibly even dejected by the suggestion that he might not further increase his shot putt best after an improvement this year – his response was quietly confident; quite typically West, in fact: “You don’t think I can improve again?” he says, a little taken aback. “Well I might just surprise you next year.”
And with that, you just know you believe in him, because over the years he’s had a tendency, albeit in an understated fashion, to get it just right.
UKA (UK Athletics) is the National Governing Body of the premier Olympic and Paralympic sport. For more information visit www.uka.org.ukTagged in: Atlanta 1996, London 2012, olympics, paralympics
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