3 September 2016
Athletics provides Rio lifeline for Para footballer
After the disappointment of his para 7-a-side football team missing qualification for Rio, the Paralympic Games dream for James Turner looked over, but a APC/AA talent transfer and identification program sees James Turner fulfilling his Paralympic dream as he arrives in Rio this week to compete in athletics.
Football was one of the first sports James Turner did from the age of five, prior to being identified as disabled with Cerebral Palsy.
“I started Paralympic football in 2008 when I was 12 and I started representing NSW in Paralympic football in 2010 when I was 14,” said Turner.
However he also enjoyed athletics in the off season.
“Football was a winter sport for me as a junior, and athletics was my summer sport. I joined Forster-Tuncurry Athletics club as an 8-year-old, and was invited to join the Hunter Academy of Sport program when I was 15 for AWD middle distance running.”
Although setting an Australian T38 800m under-20 record, his major progression was in football and by 2012 Turner was an established member of the national senior team, the Pararoos, touring Abu Dhabi that year. Following successful tournaments in Canada and Barcelona, he was named Pararoo of the Year in 2013 at just 17 years of age. Football became his full sporting focus as the team prepared for the Paralympic games qualifying tournament in June 2015.
“The tournament was held near Birmingham, England. We started very well with a 2-0 win against Portugal and I was lucky enough to be the scorer of both goals for Australia. But we lost to the current world champions, Russia and to Scotland and Ireland, all ranked above us in Paralympic 7-a-side Football.”
The losses weakened the Australian team’s world ranking.
“Following that tournament we were ranked 12th in the world and we didn’t qualify for Rio. I was very disappointed that our Paralympic dream was over for my teammates and myself.”
NSW Institute of Sport Senior Personal Excellence Adviser and Pararoos staff member Kylie Garratt was full of praise for Turner as a team member.
“Having achieved 20 caps as a Pararoo so far, James is an integral member of the squad. He is known for his hard working nature and always pushed himself through difficult and exhausting times. His personality is fantastic and he is a great asset during camps and tournaments.”
A couple of months after the tournament there was a glimmer of hope for Turner’s Rio dream.
“I hadn’t competed in athletics for over two years, but I was surprised to receive a few emails from Tim Mathews and Amy Hibbert of Athletics Australia asking me if I was interested in recommencing my athletics career. They had seen the video footage of the Football World Championships in England, and noticed that I was fit and fast and had been reclassified FT 6, Paralympic football’s equivalent of a TF 36 in athletics.
“After I got the call from Athletics Australia, I joined Athletics Wollongong in November 2015 and commenced training to qualify for Rio 2016 in T36 800m event. In January 2016, I ran an A qualifier breaking the Australian record by over 10 seconds at the IPC Grand Prix event in Canberra. This was my first competitive run in 800m for over two years.”
Shortly after he teamed up with Sydney-based Athletics Australia Para-program coach Brett Robinson and was offered a scholarship at the NSW Institute of Sport.
He went on to win the national title in April and on August 2 his dream was made reality when he was named in the Australian Paralympic team for Rio.
“We are so proud that he is able to compete in athletics and we wish him all the best at Rio!” said Kylie Garratt, a Pararoos staff member.
Turner has not found the change in sport too difficult.
“The transition from soccer to athletics was fairly simple as I had only stopped doing athletics specific training at the start of the year, and only stopped competing in AWD events 18 months before that. It was an extremely smooth transition as I found that the two sports complement each other.”
Prior to his recent move to the NSW South Coast for tertiary education, Turner grew up on the NSW mid North Coastal town of Diamond Beach.
“I have had Cerebral Palsy from birth but I have never let that stop me from doing anything that I have wanted to do. I have been involved in a number of other activities including surf life saving at the Blackhead Surf Club and meals on wheels. Following my HSC in 2014 I moved to study a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Wollongong. “
Turner travels to Rio as a definite medal hope in the men’s T36 800m as the current IPC world rankings reveal below. However with just 0.7 seconds separating second to fifth it is a lottery and as we know middle distance races can be very tactical.
2016 IPC World Rankings - Men's 800 m T36
1 Paul Blake, GBR 2:07.00
2 James Turner, AUS 2:08.01
3 Andrei Zhirnov, RUS 2:08.10
4 Evgenii Shvetsov RUS 2:08.14
5 Artem Arefyev RUS 2:08.71
James Turner’s 20 caps as Pararoo: Ukraine (2012), Canada (2013), Spain (2013) and England (2015).
David Tarbotton and Ron Bendall for Athletics NSW
Image: James Turner (image courtesy of Scott Reardon)