Paralympic gold medallist Gavin Walker ready to embrace the pressures of Paris

DEFENDING CHAMPION: Gavin Walker with his Tokyo 2020 Olympics gold medalDEFENDING CHAMPION: Gavin Walker with his Tokyo 2020 Olympics gold medal
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Gavin Walker with his Tokyo 2020 Olympics gold medal
GAVIN WALKER is determined to not only survive but thrive in front of the crowds as ParalympicsGB prepare to defend their wheelchair rugby crown at Paris 2024.

ParalympicsGB have announced the 12 wheelchair rugby players making the trip to the French capital this summer, with Walker named as the squad’s captain.

After making his Paralympic debut in Rio, the Rotherham man co-captained his nation to glory Tokyo 2020, reaching the pinnacle of the sport nine years after initially taking it up.

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However, with COVID-19 closing off the court to fans and family, Walker and his team were forced to soak up their crowning glory in front of empty stands.

The 40-year-old is wary of the added pressure that extra eyes will bring this summer but remains determined to rise to the occasion once again, this time with his two daughters in the crowd.

“There’s a flip side to it,” Walker said. “You've got the pressure of the crowds, you've got the noise of the crowds, you've got the nerves and the anxiety about playing in front of crowds.

“But it’s great that we have a Paralympics so close to home. The fact that I'll be able to have my family there, my two daughters, friends, all out there to see me play on the world stage is great.

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“I missed out on London, so this will be the first time I've really had a great support backing me up in the crowds out in Paris.”

Aldi’s Nearest & Dearest programme helps maximise support and minimise potential distractions for athletes so that they can focus on their performance and make the most of the unique opportunity to compete on one of the world’s largest stages.

Walker’s squad has undergone a revamp since topping the podium in the Land of the Rising Sun, with a number of experienced players retiring after 2021.

As such, the travelling contingent is an exciting mix of five Paralympic debutants alongside an experienced line-up of players who have featured in multiple Paralympic Games – one of which is Jonathan Coggan, who has been selected for every Paralympics since Athens 2004.

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“We've gone through a lot. Probably one of the biggest changes out of the teams that are going to the Paralympics,” Walker added. “The players, but also the coaching staff as well.

“We've got a broad range – from Jonny Coggan, definitely our most experienced athlete on the team – down to someone that's in his twenties who is very new to the sport. We’re trying to juggle that experience.

“We’re trying to remind people of how proud they should be and that they're in this unique position that very few people get to be in, but most of all to enjoy it. Don't brush over these experiences that we will be going through.”

That said, even with a different crop of players at their disposal, Walker still feels like that as Paralympic champion, the Brits have a target on their back.

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“There’s doubt about that and a lot of the build up towards the Paralympics is going to be based around that,” he said. “That doesn't paint the full picture though, the changes leading into this Paralympics.

“But that doesn't really bother us, particularly those that have been to a Paralympics before. We know what it's all about and we're confident that the hard work's been put in.

“We're confident, but we're not overconfident. Going into this tournament, are we the favourites? Probably not, but we do believe that we've got the right game plan in place and the right athletes to execute it.”

Aldi are proud Official Partners of Team GB & ParalympicsGB, supporting all athletes through to Paris 2024