Gordon Perry ‘emotional’ ahead of starting the 2023 TCS London Marathon – 40 years after his triumph
Gordon Perry has heralded his return to start the TCS London Marathon as an ‘emotional’ landmark, four decades after winning the first wheelchair race on the streets of the capital.
Perry was 28 when he won in 1983. Such was his love for the event he returned for the next 16 editions, securing four other top 10 finishes and holding the British record over the marathon distance.
It rounded off an extremely busy three-year spell. Having left the army in 1980, aged 25, following his diagnosis of bone cancer, Perry started playing wheelchair basketball. Such was his ability, he competed in the National Games in 1982 having campaigned for all registered players to compete, not just those with a spinal cord injury, and was spotted by the Great Britain coach. A year later he played in his first World Championships – along with winning the London Marathon.
Now, 24 years after competing for the final time, Perry is returning to the streets he knows so well to start the event and said he was overjoyed to be asked to start the 2023 TCS edition.
“I was flabbergasted,” said Perry. “I was so chuffed and quite emotional when I was asked and couldn’t wait to tell my wife. 1983 was a long time ago but I have such fresh memories. A few people have asked: ‘Why are you starting it and not doing it?’ – but I have earned a break!
“I just loved the event and also knew I was going to win,” he added.
Perry crossed the finish line in 3:20:07, almost five minutes ahead of the second-placed athlete.
“I was desperate to take part and was in good shape as I had been playing wheelchair basketball for two years,” he said.
Perry broke the British record by 15 minutes, despite starting from the back of the field. His personal best over the distance came the following year as he finished third in 2:45:12, although he says he would fancy his chances to better that at the time if he had had access to the equipment the world’s leading athletes are using today.
“The chairs were very heavy back then and adaptable for more than one person, so it was a different game. I was given the first three-wheeled racing chair in 1987 and I only got it the day before the race! Now the chairs are lighter and faster and of course the athletes are supremely fit. When I raced, I was very focused on nutrition and spent a lot of time powerlifting, twice a day for years. Today’s athletes are so well conditioned, and they are superb representatives for the sport.”
This year’s wheelchair race will be the richest in its history, with the overall prize pot, across both the male and female races, growing in 2023 by $54,000, from $199,500 to $253,500. Perry said the athletes deserved this recognition, for growing the profile of the sport in the UK and abroad, adding he won a holiday for two in Lanzarote in 1984, plus a French racing chair.
Perry now runs coaching and training company Wheelchair Basketball Experience, which supports opening doors for younger disabled athletes who want to participate in competition. Additionally, he has supported the wider growth of wheelchair basketball in his role as National Development Manager for Wheelchair Basketball, increasing the number of new teams from 32 to 74 between 1991 and 2006.