By Ben Hart
Former Paralympic champion Clare Cunningham believes golden girl Maisie Summers-Newton has inspired the next generation of para-athletes at the Commonwealth Games.
Summers-Newton claimed gold in the 100m breaststroke SB6 at Birmingham 2022, where the integrated para sports programme was the largest in the history of the Commonwealth Games, spanning across eight different sports.
Now Head of Athlete Services at the British Paralympic Association, Hillingdon-born Cunningham – who won five medals at Barcelona 1992 - believes the Games, and stars such as Summers-Newton, will have a seismic impact on the future uptake and wider interest in para sports.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for para-athletes and those who are lucky enough to have events here, to be able to showcase their particular sports and their particular disabilities as well,” said Cunningham, speaking on The SportsAid Vault podcast.
“We saw Maisie Summers-Newton win gold in the pool the other night. She talked in the interview beforehand about how she was inspired by Ellie Simmonds, who was interviewing her.
“Now Maisie is going to be inspiring future generations of women who may be short stature, that they can become swimmers as well, and hopefully see some success from that.
“This is what is so special about having para sport included within the Commonwealth Games.
“It does give that added opportunity and highlights to an audience which has not already seen Para sport. But they now have, and they will see a World Championships or watch something else in the future.
“I think it's really important and hopefully we'll see further growth in para sports going forward.”
Each episode of the SportsAid Vault Podcast provides listeners with unique insight ahead of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games alongside special guests, as Team England get set to impress on home soil.
The second series of the podcast, hosted by BBC Sport presenter, commentator, and reporter Tom Gayle, is inspired by the Team England Futures programme, being delivered by SportsAid on behalf of Commonwealth Games England and Sport England and saw over 1,000 talented young athletes and aspiring support staff attend Birmingham 2022.
And Cunningham believes it was vital for the stars of tomorrow to be immersed within the athlete village and get a feel for the environment at a major multi-sport event.
“You get a real sense of the culture of the different nations in the Commonwealth Games, as with the Paralympics and I'm assuming the Olympics are similar,” she explained.
“Everyone's there to do a job and they're head down, and they're focused and there'll be a little bit of chit chat and stuff, but it's a very different vibe.”
“It's sort of known as the ‘friendly’ Games and that is my experience of it. Everyone is here to support each other and yes, competition is fierce, and everyone wants to win, but at the same time they are here to enjoy the atmosphere. And what a special event it is.”
The SportsAid Vault Podcast is live and available to listen to now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and Acast! You can find out more about Team England Futures by visiting https://www.sportsaid.org.uk/partnerships/team-england-futures/.