UK & World News

  • 16 December 2012, 10:59

Paralympian Aims To Turn Convention On Its Head

A British Paralympic judo player aims to be the first in his sport to switch to able-bodied competition.

Sam Ingram will claim a world first in judo if he can follow the trail, blazed by Oscar Pistorius and others, in making the transition from disabled to non-disabled sporting competition.

The partially-sighted judoka won a silver medal at this year's London Paralympics and a bronze in Beijing 2008.  He now intends to fight for Scotland at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games against non-disabled athletes.

The 27-year-old is originally from Coventry but has settled in Edinburgh, where he trains with Scotland's elite judo players.

Sam told Sky News: "If I was selected for Glasgow, I'd prove to myself that all the hard work's paying off. I think I'd prove to other people that just because you have a disability, it doesn't mean that you've got to be pigeon-holed or limited; you can break through.

"People who have been told they'll never walk again have confounded the predictions - it is possible.

"For people with visual impairment, if you can cope with the guys who can see perfectly well, there's no reason why you shouldn't compete against them. I might have a slight disadvantage but, hopefully, I've got other advantages. If I make it to Glasgow, and it goes well, you never what's going to happen - maybe the Olympics in Rio after that."

The main difference between Paralympic and non-disabled judo comes at the start of a fight. When visually-impaired judo players begin a contest they are already gripped onto each other's jacket. In a non-disabled fight, they begin apart and the early exchanges are usually taken up with trying to secure a grip on the opponent.

"In Olympic-style judo," says Sam, when you begin grip-fighting, you have got to see where your opponent is and that's why it's a little bit difficult for people with visual impairment," Sam said.

Although Sam would be the first in judo to take the step from disabled to non-disabled competition, he wouldn't be the first British athlete to do so. Swimmer and cyclist Sarah Storey and archer Danielle Brown have previously competed for Great Britain in Paralympics and in Commonwealth Games for England.

In the wake of the Paralympics in London, there is evidence that disabled people around the UK feel more enthusiastic about sport, even if at least one survey suggests that may not translate into participation.

A post-Paralympics survey by the English Federation of Disability Sport showed that watching the Paralympics encouraged eight out of 10 disabled people to consider taking part in more sport, a large increase.

However, results from a Sports and Recreation Alliance survey conducted with sports clubs in October 2012 indicated that nine out of 10 (89%) clubs have noticed no change in the number of disabled people joining their club.

There is little doubt, however, that disabled participants who do cross the sporting threshold are still basking in the glow of London 2012.

Sky News attended a training session of the Lothian Phoenix wheeelchair basketball team in West Lothian.

Coach Shirley-Anne Duff told us: "I think there's a lot more awareness of paralympic sport and understanding of the athleticism that's involved, that these athletes train just the same as regular athletes - they train hard and they play hard.  Wheelchair basketball is such a fast paced and exciting sport that people are really able to relate to it because it's so similar to the running ball game."

Gavin Macleod, chief executive of Scottish Disability Sport, said: "I think (the Paralympics) gave people with a disability the perception that sport is for them, that there is something out there that they can do.  There are pathways there and there are opportunities so I think a whole awareness was raised around the Games, which is fantastic."

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