The Special Olympics GB National Games is being held in Sheffield this week and sees around 2,600 athletes with learning (intellectual) disabilities competing in 20 different sports.

By Tom Jamison

Ponds Forge was packed for the aquatics portion of the Sheffield 2017 schedule. Athletes and their families had again travelled from all parts of Great Britain to be part of what is one of the largest disability sports events held in the UK this year. The enthusiastic support seemed even stronger in the echoing humidity of the pool’s tiered seating.

Anybody involved in sport will know that technique will usually trump strength in sport although there are exceptions. Whilst swimming is a technical discipline, it’s a sport that demands true physical strength and stamina to succeed in. Of course, unlike on a pitch or a court, in the pool there are no ‘hiding places’ or resting moments. Digging deep is a must to succeed in swimming.

The men’s 1,500m is a particularly gruelling race, so-much-so that it was only contested by three swimmers, the first of whom finished in 24 minutes with the second a minute or so behind him. The third was around six lengths (of the required 60) off the pace and it wasn’t at all certain that he had the juice to finish.

Stopping with just four lengths to go, he looked drained and the crowd duly applauded thinking that he’d retired – only for him to push off steadily into his stroke again to a huge cheer. The poolside bell rang to indicate he was nearly home before he touched five minutes behind the other swimmers.

Sometimes the winners don’t win.

For my part, I was honoured to be asked to present several sets of medals to swimmers competing that day. Whether it was participation ribbons marking sixth place or shining gold medals for the champions, I knew that each represented guts and determination and genuine achievement.