Richard Whitehead finds a silver lining to second place

Ben Bloom
The Telegraph
Richard Whitehead, right, came second in the men's 200m T61 at the World Para Athletics Championships - REX
Richard Whitehead, right, came second in the men's 200m T61 at the World Para Athletics Championships - REX

At this stage of his career, with the type of pragmatic outlook he has, losing a race is not all that important to Richard Whitehead. So after relinquishing his hold on the world T38 200m title on Thursday night and making do with silver, there was only the smallest flicker of disappointment from the British team captain.

Instead, he was perfectly happy to defer to British team-mates Maria Lyle and Hannah Cockroft, who won their second gold medals of the week, and Sabrina Fortune, who won a dramatic first. Or to Ntando Mahlangu, the 17-year-old South African who claimed gold ahead of him.

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Whitehead was at pains to point out they are the future of a sport he cares more passionately about than almost anyone in the British set-up. And at more than double the age of the South African who beat him, the double Paralympic and four-time world champion knows he cannot keep winning everything.

“I’m 43 years old - by this time of year I should be wrapping presents and getting ready for the nativity play at school,” he said. “But I’m not. I’m out here in Dubai and I wouldn’t be doing that if para sport didn’t mean a lot to me.

“Being at the World Championships at this stage in my career, supporting, guiding and mentoring athletes such as Mahlangu is really important. Hopefully I’m setting down a legacy for the next generation of athletes. When I retire it’s up to people like him to keep it afloat.”

<span>Maria Lyle wins her second gold medal of the week, this time in the T35 200m</span> <span>Credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images </span>
Maria Lyle wins her second gold medal of the week, this time in the T35 200m Credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Voted team captain - alongside Kare Adenegan - by his peers, Whitehead has spent much of this event digging into his contacts book to provide a steady stream of good luck videos from a variety of famous faces.

Swimmers Adam Peaty and Rebecca Adlington, television presenter Ben Shephard and radio presenter Jenni Falconer have all provided messages of encouragement to the British team via Whitehead.

“I think it’s really important that as you take on the role of team captain, you’re able to provide that little bit of inspiration from quarters that people are maybe not used to,” he said. “To be voted by the team was a great honour and I want to be able to give back in a small way.”

Having never won a world title before these championships, Lyle earned her second in the space of four days when she once again took advantage of some big-name absentees to win T35 200m gold.

It capped a remarkable turnaround for someone who broke down to her mother last summer when she finally opened up about her mental health problems.

“It’s like two completely different people,” she said, comparing now to then. “This time last year I was so unhappy I was lying on my couch and couldn’t move. Now I’m enjoying training, enjoying competing and enjoying life again. It’s incredible.”

After winning the battle of the Brits by beating Adenegan to T34 100m gold last weekend, Cockroft also completed a golden double by retaining her 800m title on Thursday.

Seizing her chance down the back straight, Cockroft injected a burst of pace and surged clear to claim her 12th world title with Adenegan holding on for silver.

Of all the gold medals on the penultimate night of competition in Dubai, none was more dramatic than Fortune’s with the Paralympic F20 shot put bronze medallist sealing the world title with the final throw of the competition.

Sat in silver medal position as she entered the throwing circle for her final effort, Fortune threw a personal best - and championship record - to win gold.


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