“I’m really looking forward to Mexico City and of course I will try to get as high on the podium as possible.”
Austrian swimmer Andreas Onea had the year of his life in 2016, winning his first Paralympic medal, and is still beaming from his experience.
A podium place was narrowly lost at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, leaving him 26 hundredths of a second behind a medal in the 100m breaststroke SB8. But he knew he had much more to achieve. The battle was on and he began preparing for his next Paralympics.
“I made a lot of changes in the way I trained,” says Onea. “I organised access to better infrastructures, a permanent 50m pool to train in. I trained more and trained harder. I also changed a lot in the way I did my training outside the pool - nutrition and mental training.”
Onea reaped his reward when he at last seized a bronze medal in the men’s 100m breaststroke SB8 at Rio 2016; the Paralympic medal he had waited four years to hold.
“It was just amazing,” he said. “So much pressure fell off my shoulder after hitting the wall and realising that I've finally won my first Paralympic medal. I was so happy and I believe there are some pictures captured right in those moments of indescribable happiness. They show it perfectly.”
The Austrian knew he was on the right track following a strong performance at the 2016 European Championships in Funchal, Portugal, earlier in the year.
On 3 May, exactly 18 years after the car accident that led to the amputation of his left arm, he came third in the 200 individual medley SM8 achieving a personal best of 2:31.10 and breaking his second Austrian record of the competition.
Two days later Onea took a silver medal in the 100m breaststroke SB8 just 0.79 behind Italy’s Federico Morlacchi. His trademark smile and confidence was growing by the day.
The last few years have had their twists and turns for Onea, a fourth place in the 100m breaststroke SB8 at the 2014 Euros brought back painful memories of London, a whisker behind Great Britain’s James Crisp.
But success came for Onea at the World Championships in 2013 and 2015 with a silver and bronze medal respectively. He says his religious faith has helped him a lot.
“I try to not let success or defeat change the way I am or the way I see myself,” he said.
Andreas took a short break after Rio 2016 to relax and enjoy his growing profile in the media. He hosts the TV show Ohne Grenzen (‘No Limits’) raising awareness of Para-sport in Austria and loves giving inspirational talks.
He is also one of five Para athletes to be selected to train with the Austrian Army Sports Team, maintaining his motivation to keep working hard towards the 2017 World Para Swimming Championships in Mexico City.
“I still can’t grasp that I’ve won three international medals this year. I’m really looking forward to Mexico City and of course I will try to get as high on the podium as possible. I still have to win my first gold medal somewhere!”
The 2017 World Para Swimming Championships are expected to attract around 500 swimmers from 50 countries and are the first major competition after the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.