Wednesday, September 10, 2008

British rowing star eyes Paralympic success

After producing the world's best time as early as in the heats of the Beijing Paralympic Games, rower Tom Aggar will need a shiny gold medal to become one of Britain's brightest Paralympic stars.

The reigning world champion, Aggar blitzed the heat field to post a 5 minutes 12.25 seconds in the men's single sculls on Tuesday, bettering his own previous world-best time of 5:13.13.

"I expect the finals to be fierce. I don't know if any of the guys was holding anything back in the heats, but it will be hard," said the 24-year-old on Wednesday. "I will just go out there and give it my all."

"The best thing is that it gives me extra recovery and puts pressure on everyone else that didn't get through," he added.

The top finisher of each heat will advance directly to Thursday's finals while the remaining crews will have to race again in Wednesday's repechages which provide last chances of making it to the finals.

"My biggest opponent will probably be Australia's Dominic Monypenny who was second at last year's World Championships," Aggar used to comment on his rivalry in his blog.

"He is looking to retire after this year and has been keeping a low profile, not racing that much. He will definitely be the person I will be watching the most."

Aggar's transition from rugby player to potential Paralympic rowing gold medallist has been the most arduous journey the Londoner has made in his young life.

Having played rugby for his university, Aggar was also harbouring thoughts years ago of trying out for the Royal Marines.

But Aggar's fate was completely changed in 2005 when he was left paralysed from the waist down after suffering a serious spinal injury in an accident, about which he did not want to talk.

"I always like challenges, but I had never thought about taking on rowing before the accident.

"It seems like an upper-class sport to me. Getting into disability rowing almost two years ago, I didn't know what the dedication would be like, but the standards we are expected to achieve require complete dedication."

As part of his rehabilitation, Aggar took up rowing and competed at the 2006 national indoor championships using the rowing machine.

The sport, where the boat seat is fixed and the scullers use only their arms, is one of the most demanding disciplines but Aggar has taken to it like a duck to water.

At the World Rowing Championships in Munich last year, Aggar ripped his way to gold in the adaptive men's single scull in 5:13.13, two seconds ahead of two-time world champion Monypenny. Aggar also set a new world record in the process.

After making a successful switch to the water, the University of Warwick graduate is certainly hoping to stir some splash in the Beijing Paralympics where adaptive rowing is making its first appearance. However, he will not take it for granted.

"I'm not getting too caught up with medal talk. I'm just focusing on rowing well and doing the things I know will make me go fast, rather than the outcome," he said.

"It might be too easy to get carried away or get complacent and I have to keep in mind the task at hand.

"There is a good spirit in the team but everyone is keeping their feet on the ground and reminding each other what we train for and the sacrifices we have made to get to this stage and why we are here.

"The biggest event I had competed in before the Paralympics was the World Rowing Championships but this is massive, although it seems really well organised and the facilities have been impressive.

"There has been a lot to take in, even at the village, so we are just trying not to get too distracted.


No comments: