“In the years between London and Rio I learnt how to still want to win, instead of being afraid to lose.”
Old habits die hard – or so Marlou van Rhijn might be hoping this week.
The Dutch sprinter lines up in Nottwil, Switzerland, for the eighth IPC Athletics Grand Prix of the year, which starts on Thursday (26 May) - at a track she knows well.
For the last two years Van Rhijn has set new world records at the Swiss meeting, first in 2014 when she broke the 400m T43 mark, clocking 1:00.78.
Then last year she smashed two more of her own world records – clocking 12.82 in the 100m before following that up 24 hours later with 25.66 over 200m.
“I really like to run fast and that’s why I go to Switzerland,” explained Van Rhijn, who went on to lower both marks in 2015 – clocking 25.64 over 200m in France in June, and 12.80 in the 100m T44 final at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar, in October.
“The past has shown that it is possible to run fast there, so it’s always nice to know just in the middle of the summer season where you stand and how fast you are, then hopefully get faster towards Rio.
“I think it’s a really fast track and I’ve always been very lucky with the weather and the conditions there. It’s also the part of the season where you have had a few competitions, so you are already a bit in to it.”
The 24-year-old has every reason to want to run fast this year – she is favourite for two sprint golds at this year’s Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Van Rhijn has a Paralympic medal to defend – she won 200m gold at London 2012 along with silver over 100m – and that is a priority. No doubt all eyes will be on the woman dubbed ‘Blade Babe.’
It is a far cry from four years ago, when Van Rhijn went in to the Paralympic Games in London, Great Britain, as a relative unknown, with little expectation on her shoulders. She had everything to win, and nothing to lose.
This year at Rio 2016, circumstances have changed dramatically. There is no doubt pressure has increased.
“It’s very different from London,” admitted the double-world and European champion.
“I need to defend a title; I have something to lose. In the years between London and Rio I learnt how to still want to win, instead of being afraid to lose.”
But what is more important – defending her title or winning a new one? There is little hesitation:
“Defending the title because if you are not able to defend it, you have lost. And I don’t like to lose,” she said.
In fact, Van Rhijn does occasionally lose – in her quest to stay ahead of her rivals and win Paralympic gold, she also races against able-bodied athletes.
“You need to search for competition with people who are faster,” she explained.
“It’s only about winning in Rio. In Rio and at major championships, those are the places you need to win. The other competitions you just need to run fast and quicken your times.
“That’s why I look for competitions where I am not the fastest, but where I might lose the race but get a good time.”
One of Van Rhijn’s key rivals in Rio de Janeiro is likely to be Marie-Amelie Le Fur. The French T44 sprinter won 100m and 200m silver behind her Dutch opponent at last year’s World Championships. She also won global gold in the 400m T44m, setting a new world record of 59.30.
While Van Rhijn acknowledges the threat Le Fur poses, she does not let the actions – and improvements – of others affect her.
“She’s an amazing athlete, she runs really fast, I think she’s able to run faster than she already did, so it’s always really fun to race her,” Van Rhijn said about the French sprinter.
“But I tend to not focus on my competitors because I can’t control them. I’m still the fastest, so as long as I can keep it that way I will be pleased.
“It’s cool to see that they’ve run faster and it’s cool for the competition, but if you focus on someone else you can’t focus on yourself, and I think it’s more important to focus on what I can do.”
The IPC Athletics Grand Prix in Nottwil, Switzerland, takes place from 26-29 May.