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Para-sport handy when it comes to exceeding medal targets, but it is no lottery

SCOTLAND'S sport headlines have gone mainly to the judo and swimming squads, with 13 and 10 medals won respectively, from a total of 58 athletes.

Sam Kinghorn was fifth in her final last night and now Europe beckons. Picture: Nick Ponty
Sam Kinghorn was fifth in her final last night and now Europe beckons. Picture: Nick Ponty

But the nine para-sport competitors in the team (excluding guides or pilots) have delivered a staggering three golds, three silvers and a bronze. If these nine were a single country, they would be 15th in the medal table.

Each has a remarkable tale to tell: humbling triumphs of the human spirit. Libby Clegg, the visually-impaired sprinter who won Scotland's first athletics gold since Yvonne Murray 20 years ago, suffers from a degenerative eye condition, Stargardt's Disease. So does her brother, an international swimmer.

Aberdeen's Neil Fachie, who won two golds with Craig MacLean as his pilot, was a Paralympic visually-impaired sprinter in Beijing, but failed to reach the podium. So he switched to cycling and won gold and silver in the 2012 Paralympics.

Clegg is awed by what the para athletes have achieved. "It's been amazing," she said yesterday. "Britain as a whole has a fantastic Paralympic squad, across all sports. It's not just for fun. It's elite sport. We all train like elite athletes. That's what's important really."

She laughed uproariously to learn we dubbed her "worth almost double her weight in gold" yesterday, given the price of gold and the amount of sportscotland investment it has taken to win one. Perhaps more important to her, however, is the profile she has brought to para sport. "Having it completely integrated has been absolutely fantastic. I've loved every minute of it, having those crowds there, and people really embracing us, and appreciating all the hard work we have done," said Clegg, who was appearing at Glasgow Green as an SSE Home Nation ambassador.

"This would have been impossible without lottery funding," she added. "It's been absolutely crucial. I know people have achieved success without it, but it is practically impossible without a whole range of medical support.

"It makes a fantastic difference to get the proper injury advice and other specialist resources.

"This is the most para events we've had in the Commonwealths. It's great being integrated, but I don't think we could merge the Paralympics and Olympics. It's too big. I enjoy having them separate. I have enjoyed running in the Diamond League recently, where there's now a full programme. I have done several, and a lot of time and money is being invested in that."

Clegg has enjoyed "watching" many events, using audio description. "It's great. We even are told what people are wearing, down to the colour of their socks."

Her focus now is the European Championships in Swansea, in a fortnight, when she runs both the 100 and 200m, and the World Championships in Doha next year. "I'll try for the double, but need to plan things with my coach. It's in November, which is not the normal season."

Meggan Dawson-Farrell, seventh last night in the 1500m wheelchair event, almost died at birth - born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. "She had five or six brain operations last year," says Scotland's lead para-sport coach, Ian Mirfin. The winter before, while trying to qualify for the Games, she spent more than two months in hospital, and had shunts inserted in her brain and stomach. Complications included fluid draining into her neck, and an infection eating away at her brain.

Her father, John, a steel fabricator, built a roller-training apparatus, akin to that used by cyclists, but for her wheelchair. It spares her from training outside in foul weather.

There was no access to sport at school for the Tullibody woman, but now, at 21, she is world class. On Sunday she competes in the World Junior event at Stoke Mandeville. Sam Kinghorn, from Gordon in the Borders, fifth in last night's 1500m, will join Clegg in Swansea.

Five of the top seven in the world were in last night's 1500m, including the world-record holder. They are the first Scots in a wheelchair event at the Games since Ross Low in 1994.

Mirfin and his partner, Janice Eaglesham, founded the Glasgow Red Star club in 1990. It has revolutionised disability sport in Scotland and was where Clegg began her career. They are the unsung heroes behind the medals.

"The exposure of 2014 events has already generated several inquiries, on how to get into the sport," he says, "and we've had offers from potential guide runners."

It is interesting to note that of the 43 Scottish medals won so far, English-born athletes have won eight gold, four silver and five bronze. That would put them ahead of Kenya in the medal table.

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