With Channel 4 devoting prime time coverage to disability role models every night this week, Michael McEwan profiles the increasing number of celebrities para sport is now creating.
I'd like to see more disability role models on TV, to help break down the barriers and stigma which still exist that people with a disability are somehow different.
Building on the success of screening the London and Rio Paralympics, Channel 4 have this week been showing The World Para Athletics Championships. It has also been on BBC Radio 5 Live, with regular commentary throughout the 10 days, as well as the BBC World Service. There have live updates on the BBC Sport website too. It has been getting the coverage it deserves.
Over 280,000 spectators are expected to attend in total, with 18,000 attending on the opening night and 35,000 packing into the stadium on weekend nights.
"The world para athletics championships has been getting the coverage it deserves."
Channel 4 have covered the events live each night from 7.30 to 10pm, using much of the same presenting team that covered the Paralympics in Rio and London. While broadcasting the events, they also gave short personal insights from the athletes competing, who shared details of their disability. Some of them were not born disabled, so it gave an additional perspective into the challenges of an acquired disability.
Some of the UK athletes taking part were those who we now regard as household names from previous para events like Jonnie Peacock, Hannah Cockcroft, Richard Whitehead, Jo Butterfield and Sammi Kinghorn. While multiple Paralympics medallist David Weir has withdrawn from the track circuit to concentrate on marathons, he joined the presenting team as a pundit.
The UK’s emerging talent includes 16 year old wheelchair athlete Kare Adenegan, who clinched silver behind Hannah Cockroft in the opening night’s 100m T34 event. Also taking part were army captain Dave Henson, an Invictus Games athlete and double amputee who competed in Saturday heats for the T42 final. He didn't qualify but is well backed by Prince Harry, who interviewed him for Channel 4. Olivia Breen, 21, has cerebral palsy and won her first individual gold in T38 long jump. After a poor performance at Rio she had considered quitting but her determination and hard work has paid off.
In any major event like this, things don’t always go according to plan. In one event three competitors crashed into each other. Switzerland's Marcel Hug ‘won’ but after a technical delegate studied video footage the race was rescheduled for Friday and British athlete Richard Chiassaro was disqualified.
This year's Championships were the biggest in their history. I'm encouraged to see it was covered live to millions over TV, internet and radio platforms.
There was another big Para Sports event to report this year. In late June into July it was time to dust off the parasols and queue for strawberries and cream as Wimbledon returned.
Wheelchair sport stars
Defending Wheelchair Singles champion Gordon Reid, now an MBE, went out in the first round to Sweden's Stefan Olsson, but returned in the doubles event as he retained the title with team mate Alfie Hewett. There was a double home win as Jordanne Whiley and Japan's Yui Kamiji won the Women's Doubles Wheelchair match. This year's Wimbledon Wheelchair Men's title went to Sweden's Stefan Olsson, while Netherlands' Diede de Groot won her first ever Grand Slam title.
So what's next in the para sports calendar this year? Although not as widely televised, or covered online, there are two more tennis championships taking place in the UK.
The British Open Tennis Championships is in Nottingham's Tennis Centre from 1st-6th August. The tournament features men’s, women’s, doubles and also junior competitions.
The remaining major UK para sports event of the year is The 10th Special Olympics Great Britain, taking place in Sheffield from 7th-12th August. It will be the largest sports event to take place in the UK for people with a learning disability. The event will see around 2600 athletes from across the country compete over four days in different disciplines. This is of particular interest to me as some of my friends from Scotland will take part in the track events.
The disability sports that still get left behind
Of course, there are many other para sports taking place which don't get any coverage. This is the case for the Cerebral Palsy Football World Championships, last held in London in 2015 and this year staged in San Luis, Argentina from 3rd - 22nd September. There will be 17 international teams taking part, including England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland.
While it's encouraging to see so many para sports getting some media coverage, compared to the volume of non-disabled sporting events being broadcast, there is still more that can be done. One of the ways that we could achieve this is by raising online awareness of individual events on social media and through the local press, to make as many members of the public as possible aware of para sports. This would then create an interest on a larger scale. In the meantime, I would encourage everyone to support their local para athletes and teams by attending events.