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SLEDGE HOCKEY: Thomas setting sights on Sochi
8:00pm Friday 18th October 2013 in Sport
HE MAY have found fame on the open sea but after the disappointment of London 2012, Stephen Thomas is determined to taste more Paralympic success – but on the ice, rather than in a boat.
The 36-year-old, Portland-based sailor is a triple summer Paralympian having competed in the sonar category at Athens, Beijing and London 2012.
But the team of Thomas, Hannah Stodel and John Robertson suffered heartbreak on the water at Weymouth when they were handed a four-point penalty for an off-the-water incident that left them out of the medals.
So when the call came from the British Sledge Hockey Association to help the British team in their bid to qualify for Sochi 2014, Stephens didn’t have to think twice about his answer.
The Bridgend-born athlete was part of the last GB team to qualify for a Paralympics at the 2006 Games in Turin, where he helped the British squad to seventh.
But after completing his goal of taking part in a winter Paralympics he turned his full attention to sailing – until now.
This weekend, Thomas and the British team will fly back to Turin to compete in a six-team tournament against Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea and Sweden with the top three teams qualifying for next year’s Winter Paralympics.
And Thomas is in no doubt that the GB squad have what it takes to make it to their first Winter Games since he last turned out for the side, eight years ago.
“I started sledge hockey in 1998 when I was asked to go to a tryout at Cardiff Hockey Club, and I loved it from the very first minute I got on the ice.
“Sledge hockey is really exciting, I love the physical contact, the cold ice, hearing the blade skating through the glass of the ice, the teamwork, the skill element, it’s a great sport to play in.
“Competing in 2006 was fantastic, to represent your country at the highest level is always amazing.
“We’re really determined to get to Turin, qualify, get to Sochi and get among the medals.
“The squad is completely different, there’s a greater depth in the players, we’ve got a great coaching backroom staff and we’ve even got an elite league now. There’s a real buzz among the team and an excitement about qualifying for the Games.
“We’re quietly confident, it’s our last chance to qualify but we really want to get there.”
One of the most popular sports at the Paralympic Games, sledge hockey is fast and furious with players using two sticks instead of one to propel themselves around the ice and control the puck.
The GB squad, which also includes Paralympic javelin thrower Nathan Stephens, are entirely self-funded and were struggling to pay for the trip to Turin until BT stepped in to help sponsor the team.
“BT have been a longstanding backer of Paralympic sport and there’s a real buzz about it,” added Thomas.
“It’s great to have such a large company supporting us. It gives us a platform to go out and create a performance environment where we can achieve.”
* BT is supporting Stephen Thomas and British Sledge Hockey in their bid to complete at the Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi next year. BT has supported the British Paralympic Association since 1989.
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