David Weir in ‘a much better place’ ahead of bid for more Paralympic success

David Weir will compete in the marathon, 5000m and 1500m in Tokyo

David Weir is smiling and that could well be his biggest win at the Paralympics yet.

It’s nine years since four victories at London 2012 made Weir one of the faces of a storied sporting summer when gold seemed just a short tube ride away.

And just five years since he left Rio not in another blaze of glory but with a blazing row, accusing coaches of ‘stabbing him in the back’ and vowing he’d never pull on a British vest again.

Weir has spoken candidly about struggles with mental health he has battled since childhood and claimed training was driving him into a dark depression.

It seemed a nightmare end for an athlete dubbed the ‘Weirwolf’, whose performances have helped transform the profile of disability sport in the UK, with ten Paralympic medals, including six golds, since his debut as a teenager in Atlanta.

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Weir had planned that the 2017 World Championships would be his farewell, a chance to say goodbye in his home town on the streets that have been so often paved with gold.

Instead he watched the action unfold on television – furiously claiming former British coach Jenni Banks had accused him of throwing a relay race in Rio.

It was bitter, personal and very public and there appeared to be no turning back.

And yet here we are in Tokyo, a relaxed Weir competing not just in the marathon but back on the track, with campaigns in the 5000m and 1500m.

“I just feel in a much better place mentally, I don’t feel like there is any pressure, no big weight is hanging over me,” he said. “I’ve come here with zero expectations. Before London and Rio people were hanging four gold medals around my neck, that’s a lot to take and I just couldn’t cope anymore.

“I’ve tried to forget about Rio but I understand why people keep bringing it up, I just didn’t want that to be the last thing I did at the Paralympics. It was a horrible experience. I was just doubting myself and I hated that feeling. Every race felt the same, I just didn’t want to be around the sport anymore. I’d had enough of everything it was about.

“When I was racing on the road I didn’t feel like that, perhaps because I was competing for myself, rather than my country. I just couldn’t deal with  everyone’s expectations of my success. Once I stepped back from the sport it changed. I’m just enjoying this experience now and trying to appreciate it more.

“I’d forgotten what had felt like being part of this team, I just feel very proud to be here and that’s all that matters. And this might not be my last one – you never know.”

Regardless of what happens in the days ahead, Weir – now 42 – finally appears an athlete at ease with himself.

For years it has seemed his battles were not just with rivals but against the injustices of his sport – a lack of media profile outside these Games, paltry endorsement deals and prize money, often infinitesimal compared to non-disabled team-mates with a fraction of his success.

“You don’t realise just what you’ve achieved when you are living your life and right in the middle of it – you always want more,” he said. “Sometimes I flick back to 2012 and remind myself of what I did. It took me four months before I watched it back and I was in a flood of tears, I couldn’t believe it was actually me.”

Weir qualified for the marathon here two years ago but only made his return to the track after the pandemic forced a succession of cancellations to his big city marathon appearances.

In a twist of circumstances he never predicted, he headed for Switzerland in search of race practice and was duly rewarded with two personal bests – times he admitted even shocked him.

“I was worried when they put the Games back because of my age,” he adds “I’m always worrying about my age but I changed a few things last year and everything feels fresh again. I feel like I’ve made massive jumps in that last year but … no pressure.”

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