Updated: Saturday, 4th April 2020 @ 10:16am

'Happiest I've ever been': No money, no problems for Bollington Paralympian Clegg after funding cut pre Rio 2016

'Happiest I've ever been': No money, no problems for Bollington Paralympian Clegg after funding cut pre Rio 2016

| By Pippa Field

For those on the outside, Bollington visually impaired sprinter Libby Clegg’s preparations for this summer’s Paralympics Games could not have been worse.

Without funding after being left out of UK Athletes’ World Class Performance Programme and the introduction of a new guide just nine months out from Rio: it’s not all been plain sailing – and that’s not to mention the injury and illness which caused her to miss out on the last World and European Championships respectively.

The 25-year-old, who suffers from a deteriorating eye condition known as Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy, has a different opinion however, and instead insists she has never been happier as she starts to ramp up proceedings ahead of Rio.

Having started work at the start of the year with new guide Chris Clarke – a replacement for Mikail Huggins with whom she had won Paralympic silver, World, European and Commonwealth gold, among others, with – Clegg is gearing up for an outdoor season she hopes will culminate with a podium finish at the Nilton Santos Stadium in Rio in September.

But while some may be writing off her chances after difficult few years, Clegg believes being left of the World Class Performance Programme could work out to be a blessing in disguise.

“You know, I feel a lot less pressure this year,” she explained. “This is the first year I’ve not been on funding and I feel like I am taking full responsibility for my training, I feel like I’m in a really great place.

“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been so I’m looking forward to this year.

“Obviously I’ve had a tough couple of years previously, coming back from World Championships and being injured wasn’t ideal, and I’m no longer on the performance programme so I do have to look after myself.

“But my targets this year in Rio are aiming to be on the podium. Where that will be I’m not sure because there’s a few of us that are really close together. I think it’s going to be a tight race.

“I’m looking to race at the end of April, just to stretch my legs and have a bit of a taster of where I’m at.

“I definitely thought it was quite close to the Games to be changing guides, it was pushing my luck really but I just felt I needed to do something different.

“I will not probably know realistically if the decision was the best decision until we start competing but I’m really positive and I really believe we’re going to have a successful year.”

Clegg’s situation has been helped with the financial support of SSE who not only backed the sprinter in the run up to the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow but also since, and in return made her an ambassador for the SSE Next Generation Programme.

The programme provides vital financial and development support to young athletes across the UK and Ireland and Clegg admitted the initiative, and the personal support from SSE, had blown her away.

“I find it really inspiring to be an athlete mentor for the SSE Next Generation programme,” she added.

“Just getting to see how the other athletes are getting on is great and also making sure they can feel free to ask me any questions, and hopefully I can give them advice.

“I started working with SSE the year before the Commonwealth Games and they told me about the Next Generation Programme which I thought was absolutely fantastic that they are supporting all the athletes.

“And then they continued supporting me after the Commonwealths and again after I got removed from the World Class Performance Programme to make sure I got back on my feet and to help me continue on my journey to Rip.

“I’m very grateful. It definitely takes a bit of the worry away. It is financially the hardest year and it’s nice to know someone believes in me.”

SSE’s Next Generation programme partners with SportsAid to provide financial support and training to the sports stars of the future. Keep up to date with the latest @SSENextGen