Olivia Breen and Emmanuel Oyinbo-Coker – para athletes of 2022

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After both athletes shone at the Commonwealth Games stage they earned your votes in our end-of-year readers’ choice poll

With the cancellation of the World Para Athletics Championships which had been due to take place in 2022, the para events which were integrated into the programme at the Commonwealth Games took on even more significance. 

Two individuals who seized their chances to shine on the Alexander Stadium track during the summer were Olivia Breen, who landed T37/38 100m gold for Wales, and England’s T45-47 100m champion Emmanuel Oyinbo-Coker. 

Their performances in front of the raucous home crowd were among the many remarkable moments from those Games. Breen was the picture of jubilation when she beat multiple Paralympic champion Sophie Hahn to the line and, in doing so, claimed Wales’ first Commonwealth gold for 32 years. The 26-year-old, who has Cerebral Palsy, has barely stopped smiling since.

Oyinbo-Coker, 21, was similarly jubilant with his victory which followed up success at the World Para Athletics Grand Prix in Dubai and the Newham and Essex Beagle athlete admits that only his beloved Arsenal winning the league would come close. 

Their achievements have seen them voted as AW’s Para Athletes of the Year.

Talk us through the highlight of your year

OB: I went into the Commonwealth Games thinking that a medal of any colour would be nice but to bring it home in front of my friends and family was the best [The Tokyo Paralympics] was a bit rubbish without family and friends there so this made up for it. I didn’t really know what to do when I crossed the line because I was so excited so it was all a bit of a blur. That was the best moment of my life so far.

I was smiling even 10 metres from the line. It was a beautiful day and being able to do it for Wales was an absolute honour. I have a really strong connection with Wales, my family live out there and the Welsh team is just like a family so being part of that team and being able to do it for them was everything I could have hoped for.

Olivia Breen (Mark Shearman)

EO: It was my first competition being part of Team England, which was really exciting. I loved meeting athletes from all over in the village and having the competition on home soil in front of that amazing crowd and my family was something I can’t describe.

The night before [my final] I actually had a dream about it and I was picturing the way it would turn out. Then the day was almost an exact replica of the dream and everything fell into place. I like the way that happened. I remember my family around the finish line and running over to them and then seeing the flag go up while I was on the top of the podium – that was an unforgettable moment and a heart-warming feeling.

What was it that clicked to make this year so successful?

EO: Sticking to routine. I really didn’t have time off so I never lost focus. I set a 60m PB indoors and won the world para-athletics grand prix [in Dubai] on top of the Commonwealths but didn’t let those wins get to my head or impact my concentration. I raced 45 times this year and, for me, staying in top condition is about competing. To be race fit I have to race. I get people to video me and I’m always critiquing myself. It’s the best way to improve.

What would you like to say to all those who voted for you as an AW

Award winner?

OB: I can’t put into words how grateful I am to everyone who voted for me. Now I want to do them proud and prove that I can carry my success into next year and keep going. 

It’s been an incredible 2022 – how do you top it?

EO: It’s not necessarily topping it but continuing in the same direction and keeping winning. It’s difficult to outdo your previous achievements but I just have to focus on what I know I can do and the consistent and dedicated training that got me to that point. It worked this year so I think it should work again.

READ MORE: Olivia Breen’s training programme

What advice do you have for others with disabilities?

OB: No matter what disability you have, there’s a life for you. Find what you love and what makes you feel good and you never know where it might take you. Yes, you will have up and down days but just keep trying because it is all so worth it in the end. I believe in you and you are stronger than you think. There are so many people cheering you on and you deserve to be happy and find what you love doing. No disability can stop you. 

» This article first appeared in the December issue of AW magazine

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