Paralympian Paul Blake: ‘I used to run and I liked doing that…’
800m World Record holder David Rudisha is Paul Blake’s athletics inspiration. That’s because he’s run 1:41.01, right? Well…not entirely, because IPC World 400m Champion Blake – an 800m World Record holder in his own right and a World silver medallist over 800m and 1500m – respects Rudisha as much, if not more, for his 45.50 PB for the one-lap event.
Blake is now working to reduce his own 400m time in a bid to succeed over 400m and 800m at next year’s London 2012 Paralympic Games: “From a practical perspective I think it’s better for me to focus on the 400m and the 800m rather than mixing in the 1500m,” he says. “I find it quite difficult to balance between three events because different sessions (speed v endurance) need different focus and recovery.”
Practicalities aside, however, it’s a done deal for London because there is no T36 1500m for athletes with Cerebral Palsy scheduled for next summer.
One of five siblings, Paul Blake – who is learning Italian in his spare time – is a twin and 15 minutes younger than his brother Alex; he grew up playing tennis and basketball but found an unexpected talent for running: “My brother and sisters all had bikes but I couldn’t cycle because of my Cerebral Palsy so I used to run behind them and I liked doing that…”
“I joined a basketball club with my friends when I was around 16 but I soon realised I wasn’t really big enough for that. My sister suggested disability sailing but I got sea sick so that was out…I’d always run and I enjoyed it, so that was the obvious choice.”
He was born with a talent gene, it seems, because sport – and performing – evidently runs in his family. His granddad played tennis at Wimbledon and his mum went to the Royal Ballet School in London; one of his sisters was tipped to be an international gymnast, one was a county netball player and one was a basketball player, and, perhaps the Pièce de résistance, his dad is an actor and played Greedo in Star Wars.
His mind was made up and he joined Wimbourne AC for a year before linking up with his current club Dorchester. “They knew I had a disability but they kind of forgot about it because we ran together as a big group of different ages and abilities and there were always people running faster and people running slower. I just slotted in,” he says.
Ironically, having made a conscious decision to investigate disability competition options and apparently coming up trumps with a UKA Disability Athletics Grand Prix event at Crystal Palace in summer 2009 (“I figured that if I could compete against non disabled guys I could compete against people in my class, but I had no idea about the process,” he says), he found himself alone on the start line.
“There were supposed to be six people running but when I got there nobody else was in the race so I ended up in a time trial against myself,” he says.
“It was definitely worthwhile though because I got the chance to see the set up and how the different classifications worked and I got to speak to Paula Dunn (Paralympic Performance Transition manager).
“After I’d run the times I needed to be considered for funding I joined a squad weekend in Birmingham where I met the other athletes for the first time like Ben and Kat (his current training partners Ben Rushgrove and Katrina Hart).”
Perhaps it was fate, but after the initial Crystal Palace disappointment, Blake returned to the same venue to the equivalent meeting in summer 2011 to clock a new T36 800m World Record time of 2:08.02 in an international elite field.
“I was really shocked when I saw the time,” he admitted at the time; “I thought it was high 2.09 so when I saw the result I was really, really happy.
“My coach Rob (Rob Ellchuk) told me to go through in 59-60 and try to maintain it down the back straight then give all I had, and it worked. I definitely think the extra gym work has played a part by making me stronger. I’ve also done longer speed sessions, but I think it’s the strength training that’s done it.”
A couple of months later and with greater time for reflection, he also acknowledges the vital role of his first major competition experience at January’s IPC Athletics World Championships in New Zealand: “I think it (New Zealand) was a turning point. It made me a lot more professional. I didn’t really know what I could achieve until then so it really helped my focus.”
“It was also really good to size up my opposition and see who was out there, especially because I was so used to competing in able bodied athletics.”
His training group is arguably a significant driving force in his commitment and love of the sport. He linked up with Ellchuk’s group on the advice of Dunn and admirably, commutes six days a week to Bath from his home in Dorchester, although he hopes to move to Bath before the end of the year.
“I look forward to training every day,” he says. “Rob’s training group is great because of the range of athletes we have – they all want to do it because they love the group and they love training with Rob.”
And while Ellchuk’s forte is arguably sprinting – Katrina Hart, for example, is a World Champion over 200m and a Commonwealth Champion over 100m – he is accomplished in coaching up to 5k and has, says Blake, added a lot to his training over the past 12 months including strength and conditioning work which he believes has been key to his progression.
Ultimately, Blake is a modest, likeable and extremely talented and versatile athlete, but unbeknown to him, he’s also starting to play the part as a role model.
Daniel Hooker, a second year history undergraduate at Christ Church at Oxford University and aspiring Paralympian, writes about Blake in his University blog:
“I admire people of my own age who have broken into the top levels of disability sport. People like Paul Blake – a fellow cerebral palsy athlete whom I have shared a British relay team with – are inspiring as within two years of taking up the sport he became the 400m world champion in his category. Seeing him grit his teeth and hold on to win that race having lost massive leads in the 800m and 1500m only days earlier was very emotional. The idea that someone of my age, from my country, can go out there and win makes me think that I can do it too. If I increase the volume and quality of my training while avoiding injuries, it is possible.”
“Wow,” says Blake. “I had no idea. If I can get anyone into the sport I feel like I’ve done a good job.”
Looks like he’s going the right way about it, whether he’s aware of it or not.
UKA (UK Athletics) is the National Governing Body of the premier Olympic and Paralympic sport. For more information visit www.uka.org.ukTagged in: 2012, olympic, paralympics, Paul Blake, Sport
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