“It’s motivating. It shows that people are starting to take Paralympic sport seriously – it’s not like ‘Oh the poor guy in a wheelchair, let him have something.’ They actually look at you as an athlete."
After racing to his first-ever Paralympic gold medal at Rio 2016 last September, Belgian Para athlete Peter Genyn received a phone call.
News had spread back home in Belgium that Genyn had won the men’s 100m T51 – the race was broadcast on television and one man in particular wanted to congratulate the 40-year-old on his achievement.
It turned out to be the first of a number of conversations Genyn would have with the King of Belgium.
“I talked to the King for a good few minutes,” explained Genyn, who went on to add the 400m T51 gold to his collection four days later.
“We talked mostly about the medals, he was proud that I did so well, he was very happy that I represented the Belgian people.
“He wished me luck with the next race and said he would follow it and that he would invite us to the Palace when we got back. It was a very polite conversation.”
Back in his hometown of Kalmthout, north of Brussels, Genyn quickly came to realise that his success in Rio hadn’t gone unnoticed.
“When we got home we were invited to the Palace, so it was great. Also, the day we arrived the entire town came to my house to celebrate me coming home – that was really cool.
“There were about 150 flags in the town so it was amazing to see. Even if I go other places now sometimes people recognise me. Things are a little different.”
While Genyn appreciates the accolades and the attention, he won’t let any thoughts of his Royal fan club distract him from his next aim – retaining his two world titles in London, Great Britain this summer.
“It’s motivating. It shows that people are starting to take Paralympic sport seriously – it’s not like ‘Oh the poor guy in a wheelchair, let him have something.’ They actually look at you as an athlete.
“We were invited to a lot of celebrations – when we went to the King it was the Paralympic and Olympic athletes together, and we were congratulating each other.
“But when I’m on the starting line all I think about is the finish and why I like this stuff.”
The last time Genyn competed in the British capital was at London 2012 – but his time spent on the athletics track was limited to the opening and closing ceremonies.
Back then, Genyn was part of his country’s wheelchair rugby team, however an accident in 2013 meant any further participation in the sport was deemed too dangerous for his health.
He recalls: “For me it was a great time. I think the Games in London were one of the biggest and best so far, so it was really great to be there. The atmosphere was great.”
After rugby, Genyn turned to track and field - and hasn’t looked back.
A double European silver medallist at Swansea 2014, he soon climbed to the top of the podium, winning 100m and 400m T51 world gold at Doha 2015. Two more gold medals followed at the 2016 European Championships in Grosseto, Italy, last June, as well as the world record over one lap.
Despite all his recent successes, Genyn believes the likes of 2012 Paralympic champion Toni Piispanen of Finland and Algeria’s Paralympic silver medallist Mohamed Berrahal will still pose a major threat.
“It does add confidence but I’m still sure that Piispanen isn’t finished, he’ll be looking for revenge,” said Genyn.
“Berrahal was looking very good, Navarro Sanchez was good at the 400m (he won silver behind Genyn), Berrahal was good over both distances.
“So I’m sure they’re not going to give it away, but I’m hoping to defend my titles. We will see what happens.”
Genyn will be one of around 1,300 athletes from 100 countries competing at the London 2017 World Para Athletics Championships between 14-23 July. To buy tickets, please click here.