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Paralympic sports - 04. November 2012.

London 2012 Paralympics were a "turning point" for disabled sport

Paralympic rowing gold medallist Naomi Riches believes this year's London Paralympic Games was ‘a turning point' in the way the British public view disabled sport.

By David Brenchley

After a successful Summer Olympics, the Paralympics took centre stage and, with new heroes such as David Weir and Hannah Cockroft emerging, was a ‘turning point' in disabled sport.

Riches, who is visually impaired, won mixed coxed four bronze at the 2008 Games in Beijing before claiming gold this time around.

And, having had experiences of previous competition, Riches feels this was when the public's perception of the Games changed.

She said: "It was a huge turning point in terms of people's perception of disabled sport.

"I think people went into it often saying ‘oh, well I couldn't get tickets for the Olympics so I'll get tickets for the Paralympics'.

"It was almost like it was second best but they came out of it realising that it's not second best at all.

"It's not people with disabilities playing a sport, it's elite athletes who happen to have disabilities. I think the Paralympics in London have completely changed the outlook on what disabled sport is."

It has been an unforgettable year in Britain and one Riches will never forget, having rowed the Gloriana at the head of the flotilla in the Queen's Jubilee River Pageant.

She topped 2012 off with a gold medal, coming from behind to defeat the German crew with the aid of a partisan crowd.

It was an experience the 29-year-old described as ‘mind-blowing'.

"Competing there was just exceptional," she added.

"At Dorney Lake the crowd was huge, it was so loud I couldn't hear our cox for the last 500 metres of the race.

"It was the Dorney roar and it really was a roar. Our cox could have got out and swum back to the finish because we couldn't hear a word she was saying.

She did a superb job getting us that far and the Germans were in the lead at 500 metres and she did whatever she needed to do to get us to pull through the Germans and that's what happened.

They drowned out Lily but we knew that 99 per cent of the people were there for us and no-one else - not for the Germans, not for the Chinese, not for the French."

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