Team GB flagbearer Ellie Simmonds has credited reality television shows and the Black Lives Matter movement for helping improve the image of the Paralympics.
Swimming star Ellie Simmonds has credited reality television and the Black Lives Matter movement for helping improve the image of the Paralympics.
Simmonds, considered one of Britain’s greatest Paralympians, is preparing to lead the team into Tokyo 2020 after being chosen as one of Great Britain’s flagbearers for Tuesday’s opening ceremony alongside archer John Stubbs.
The 26-year-old, who has bone growth disorder achondroplasia, will compete at her fourth Games having already won eight medals, including five golds, across appearances in Beijing, London and Rio.
She feels the perception of disability has changed significantly during that time, citing mainstream exposure of Para athletes and the rise of protest campaigns demanding equality as major factors.
“Even before Beijing, people thought I was going to special Olympics; the Paralympics and disabilities were still under wraps really,” said Simmonds, who was just 13 when she made her debut in China in 2008.
“People didn’t really know what it was.
“Disabilities – and especially the Paralympics – were brought into height in London 2012 and the Paralympic movement and disability has just crept up and it’s just amazing to see – it’s been showcased and it’s amazing.
“It’s not just achondroplasia or different disabilities in sport but it’s also now in other things: you had Jonnie (Peacock), you had Lauren (Steadman), you had Will (Bayley) in Strictly (Come Dancing), you had Hollie (Arnold) in I’m a Celebrity (Get Me Out of Here).
“There’s so many athletes out there with disabilities in reality TV and that’s so good for all different disabilities.
“And not just in those types of reality TV (programmes) but seeing it on TV, so kids growing up are more aware that there are so many different people.
“I think also we’ve seen the rise about it being OK to be different, the likes of Black Lives Matter, the acceptance of all that, the change, the protest and the awareness of there are so many different people out there.”
Simmonds will defend her 200m individual medley title in Japan, with the S6 swimmer set to for her third-successive title in that event on Thursday. She is also due to enter the 100m breaststroke and 400m freestyle.
And she admits being chosen to join the exclusive list of British flagbearers left her speechless when she received confirmation from chef de mission Penny Briscoe on Sunday.
She said: “I was in awe and just didn’t have any words. It’s been a challenging year and to be carrying the flag for absolutely everyone, it’s just a huge honour.”
The opening ceremony gets underway today (Tuesday), 12pm UK time.