A year of firsts: Ed Harry reflects on 2018

BBC journalist recalls emotional moments as season draws to a close 16 Nov 2018
By Ed Harry | For World Para Athletics

In the last of his columns this year, BBC correspondent Ed Harry looks back on the highlights of an eventful 12 months.

2018 has delivered. Not just new stars, like Daniel Romanchuk, but new disciplines too - or rather disciplines new to international Para athletics competition.

I was there to report for the BBC's UK radio audience on Hannah Dines and Gavin Drysdale winning gold as RaceRunning made its debut at the World Para Athletics European Championships in Berlin.

Working in the media, we constantly want to tell people's back-stories. That's by no means restricted to Para sport; I think it's important to know something about the background of any individual that's achieved something if that information helps to place their sporting success in a wider context.

That's how I found myself reading Hannah Dines' blogs before I watched her race. There was plenty to read about Gavin Drysdale too. Research has rarely been as much fun and they'd both drawn me into their sport before race day came along.

Le Fur’s phenomenal jump

The WPA European Championships had many stand-out moments. Anyone who has followed Marie Amelie Le Fur's story over the last year will appreciate the outpouring of emotion which greeted one of the most incredible jumps I have ever seen in the sport of track and field. The Frenchwoman's 6.01m added 18 centimetres to her existing world record and was the first leap ever to break the six-metre barrier in the T64 classification.

I was sat in my commentary position with the perfect view of the pit, seeing Le Fur break the sand and the chain reaction that set off in the crowd of French athletes and officials who were right there living the moment with her. Coming just months after the loss of her unborn baby, it was so much more than a celebration of a mark in the sand.

Breaking the six-metre barrier was comparable to Bob Beamon's leap at the 1968 Olympic Games. In that moment though, it was about the wider role that sport can play in our lives.

One of those who congratulated Le Fur was the event's bronze medallist, Stef Reid. Only when I got home from Berlin did I fully appreciate what else Stef had been up to. UK television viewers got to see her reach the latter stages of the BBC's 'Celebrity MasterChef' which gave me every excuse I needed to tell as many people as possible what Stef does for a day job.

A hug for Heinrich

The wider exposure of Para athletes is growing year-on-year, and that brings me to one of the few athletes who has ever hugged me after an interview. I'm very much a handshake kind of person and you will never find me asking an interviewee for a selfie. However, after conducting a retirement interview with Heinrich Popow in Berlin, it was time to hug. We'd been discussing his appearance on 'Dancing with the Stars' and how his desire to connect with the wider German public had caused him to push his body past it's limits, ultimately leading to him missing London 2017 as he recovered from those injuries.

Popow spoke about London 2012 and what a game changer it was, and about his future plans. I said I hoped we could persuade him to spend some time in the BBC commentary box too. He remembered doing just that one afternoon at the Lyon World Championships and is keen to be there with us in Tokyo.

Romanchuk to rule in 2019?

I began by mentioning Daniel Romanchuk, one of those names I picked out in my first column of 2018. I'd just seen him finish third in the London Marathon straight after making the podium in Boston. I concluded in my piece that "Coach Adam Bleakney has found yet another athlete of real promise".

Yes he has.

Romanchuk has gone on to break world records on the track and win both the Chicago and New York Marathons, the latter in a sprint finish ahead of Marcel Hug and David Weir. The 20-year-old defeated those same two all-time greats of T54 racing in Chicago, after both had beaten him in the British capital back in April.

In the days after his New York win, Daniel told me on the BBC World Service that the short-term goal is "hopefully medalling" at the Tokyo Paralympic Games and that gold there would be "quite incredible". I'm not alone in thinking he can do it, and so can a whole host of young athletes who've had a breakthrough year. Bring on 2019 and the World Championships.

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