British sprinter Libby Clegg is hoping that a complete Para athletics overhaul will provide the key to a return to the top of the podium at July’s World Para Athletics Championships in London, Great Britain.
The visually impaired Para athlete last won a world title back in 2011, at just 20-years-old.
At the World Championships in 2013 she won double silver; two years later in Doha, Qatar she failed to reach the podium as injury put paid to her progress through to the finals.
But since 2015 a lot has changed – including her coach, her guide and the class she competes in - and she heads to London 2017 as favourite for gold in both the 100m and 200m T11.
“I’m really looking forward to the World Championships, being back on home soil will be great, going back in to the Olympic Stadium. It is something else competing in front of a home crowd.
“I’m hopeful, and it is nice going in as the favourite because it does give you a big confidence boost,” admitted the 27-year-old.
After the 2015 World Championships, Clegg lost her funding from British Athletics for the following year. But she believes it was a situation that changed her for the better.
“I learned a lot about myself and to be honest I think it was a kick up the bum that I needed,” added Clegg, who also got engaged to her fiancé Dan last October.
“I had complete control over my own programme and the people that I chose to work with. It was definitely the best thing that happened to me. I surrounded myself with people that wanted the same thing that I did.”
Life threw another curve ball at Clegg when her guide Chris Clarke, who she joined forces with in early 2016, ruptured his Achilles tendon late last year.
She is now running with a new guide, Caleb Downes, an athlete from her training group, and although she happily acknowledges how well he is adjusting to the role, Clegg knows that she has ‘not had the easiest start to this year.’
“Chris has ruptured his Achilles so I may be running with a different guide at the World Championships,” she added.
Clegg has fond memories of her first World Championships back in 2006 and believes her performances there played a large part in encouraging her to keep racing.
“I only really remember it being a really good experience,” she explained.
“I had no pressure, I didn’t know what to expect and I was only really taken out as a wildcard anyway. I won a silver medal in the 200m and I remember massively exceeding my expectations. I broke my personal best in the 200m by quite a bit so all I can remember is positives.
“That gave me the hunger to carry on, because when you start winning things it makes it easier to stay in the sport.”
At the London 2012 Games Clegg won silver in the 100m T12, adding to the silver she won in Beijing four years previously.
Then last year at Rio 2016 she struck gold – winning both the 100m and 200m T11, where Para athletes compete with blindfolds as well as a guide.
Clegg set a new world record in the 100m as she saw off the likes of triple world champion Cuiqing Liu of China – and she believes she is capable of even more this year.
“With the Chinese athletes you never know what kind of shape they are going to be in – you know they are going to be in good shape but you just never know what they are going to run, so it was a bit nerve wrecking lining up against them in Rio.
“But I was confident in the people I had around me; I knew what kind of shape I was in and what times I was capable of.
“I’ve not hit my full potential yet, I definitely think I’ve got a way to go so we will wait and see. I do feel confident though and I feel like I’m in a position where I can go out and produce the goods.
“I’ve got to expect the unexpected. I know I have a target on my bag so I just have to try and make sure I stay ahead of the game.”
The London 2017 World Para Athletics Championships will take place between 14-23 July. To buy tickets, please click here.