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Rio 2016 Paralympics: Sophie Kamlish says move to Bath was key to sprinting career

Create: 08/27/2016 - 15:03
It is only six years since Sophie Kamlish was identified as a star of the future by athletics talent-spotters in the West, but the Bath sprinter is already looking forward to her second Paralympic Games appearance.
Kamlish, a lower-limb amputee who turned 20 in August, is running faster than ever ahead of her trip to Rio 2016 after taking time out from her academic studies in order to concentrate on her training and secure a place in the British squad. She will compete over 100m in Brazil and has high hopes of improving on her fifth-place finish at the London Games, where she had the chance to compete in two finals in front of a noisy, partisan 80,000 crowd only 12 months after taking delivery of her first prosthetic running blade.

Having been born with a deformed right leg, Kamlish was told by a surgeon at Great Ormond Street Hospital at the age of nine that she would need to have it amputated below the knee. As the difference in length between her legs had become increasingly pronounced, she had needed a wheelchair to get around.

Victory in a hopping race on sports day at her old primary school in Camden, London, proved to be a sign of things to come. Kamlish moved to Bath with her family, attended a Playground to Podium event organised by the West of England Sport Trust (Wesport)  in 2010  following encouragement from a teacher at Oldfield School and was invited to a UK Athletics Talent Introduction Day at the university in March of the following year, despite having no previous coaching.

The speed of her progress since under the watchful eye of Team Bath sprints guru Rob Ellchuk, whose charges Paul Blake, Ben Rushgrove and Katrina Hart claimed four medals between them in London, has been nothing short remarkable.

Kamlish said: “It is crazy. If I had been born able-bodied I wouldn't have been doing any sort of sport at all. It's great that I've been given the opportunities that I have had. I never thought I would be going to two Paralympics in a row, so it's incredible.
“It was very serendipitous that I just happened to move to Bath and end up being spotted as a potential athlete for the Paralympics and be put into such a lovely training group. I can't really imagine being coached by anybody else. I don't know if I'd have been able to carry it on.”
Kamlish, classified as a T44 athlete, has also competed in the long jump and 200m. She finished sixth in the latter event at the 2012 Paralympics, but is focusing solely on the 100m now and broke her own British record in the build-up to Rio.
“It was really encouraging,” she added. “When I turned 18 I started training six times a week for a whole year so that's why my times have improved so much.
“My coach has been saying that I would be able to run a lot faster than I had been and it came to fruition and thankfully it has. Hopefully I can improve that PB.
“It will just be the 100m for me in future because my remaining foot is a bit troublesome in terms of running the bend [in the 200m]. I have a few missing bones and it's not very stable and I think I'd probably get injured if I did it now.”

But is Kamlish's form good enough to see her emulate the success of her former PE teachers at Oldfield, rower Helen Glover, who has already triumphed in Rio this summer with a second successive Olympic gold medal in the women's pair alongside Heather Stanning?

“Hopefully,” is the answer. “It is possible. It's a mixed category event so it is trickier for the T44s to get a gold because the T43s – like Marlou van Rhijn [of the Netherlands] – is so much faster than us but a podium is what I'm aiming for, as is everyone else, and it'll be an exciting race.”
As months go, they won't come a lot bigger than September 2016 for Kamlish. As soon as she flies back to Britain following the closing ceremony on September 18, she will relocate to Kingston University in London to begin studying for a degree in illustration and animation having completed a foundation course in illustration at the City of Bath College a year ago.
She admits the change to her life will be “massive” but is sure that the experience she has gained while competing at elite level, particularly the one gained in the capital city four years ago, will stand her in good stead.
Kamlish, whose parents run children's colouring book company Rosie Flo, said: “London 2012 helped me a lot. Because I had only just turned 16 I wasn't really nervous in the lead-up to my races and it was an extremely enjoyable experience. It flew past. 
“It was the longest period I had been away from my parents, but I didn't really miss them. It was a long time to be in that a tight-knit team environment and I now know what that's like. The crowd won't be as supportive of the GB athletes but luckily there aren't any Brazilians in my race, so at least we might get an equal amount of cheering.”
The London Paralympics followed hot on the heels of a record-breaking summer for home Olympians and extended the feelgood factor around the country. It proved to be the most successful Games in history, with 2.7million tickets sold, and British athletes picked up 120 medals in total. Channel 4's coverage was also well received, with The Last Leg, an alternative review of each day's events hosted by Australian comedian Adam Hills, proving particularly popular. 
The perception of paralympians in this country, Kamlish believes, has been transformed as a result.
“Hopefully there will be a lot of coverage again this time,” she said. “We all really enjoyed watching The Last Leg during London 2012 – it was so funny and fresh to see people with disabilities talking about it and joking about it, because it's not all serious. It's not a case of 'oh, everything is so inspirational and I'm going to cry' – there's a lot more to it than that.”

About Author

Neil Beck
Neil edited XtraTime magazine across all 11 issues from September 2015 to the spring of 2017. He is a vastly-experienced West Country sports journalist who cut his teeth at the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald before moving on to become head of sport at Bath News & Media.