The rain and wind of Festival Square in Edinburgh is a far cry from Rio de Janeiro’s famous sun and sand. That does not seem to be bothering Andrew Mullen, whose joy at claiming three Paralympic medals could cut through even the gloomiest of days. Having failed to get his hands on a medal at London 2012, finishing agonisingly close in fourth place on two occasions, Mullen believes that his previous experiences were nothing but a bonus when competing this time around.
“In London, everything was there for us, everything there was sorted to kind of pamper Team GB almost, so it was a very different environment to go out there. But I think being four years older and four years more mature, with a bit more experience, I was able to take in a lot more of the atmosphere, whether it be the village or the races, so I had a ball out there.”
Of course it was not all play for Mullen. An all-round swimmer, the 19-year-old found himself competing in freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly across a variety of distances; the goal was always to improve on his results in London. One of the main goals of the 2012 Games was to create a legacy, which is something Mullen says has been more obvious throughout the set-up over the last four years.
“It’s definitely more prevalent within Para-sport. I think the participation numbers in Para-sport have skyrocketed – I’m not really sure of the exact figures, but I think even just going to the local competitions, you can see it; you can see that there is [sic] more people getting involved, which is fantastic because the more people involved, the more competitive the sport will be and that is what we want.”
He is not wrong. There has been a boom in swimming participation across the UK since 2012. In London, Team GB claimed 39 medals in the pool – a number they demolished in Rio, where they took home 47 medals, including 16 golds. Since Sydney 2000, Team GB has seen a massive boost in funding for its Paralympic swimmers, rising from a little over £3.5m to just under £10.5m.
The likes of Ellie Simmonds have done wonders to raise the profile of Para-swimming in the UK, but Mullen says that it was something he simply fell into.
“Well I originally just got into swimming as a good life skill … I just had a real passion, a real enjoyment for the water so I started competing locally, and I guess everything kind of snowballed from there. Local competitions turned into Scottish competitions, and Scottish turned into British. The next thing you know, you’ve been to two Paralympic Games.”
Of course, this is only the beginning for Mullen. At just 19-years-old, there is plenty of scope for the Scot to compete at many more Paralympics.
“The gold medal is always the target. I’ve progressed from London […] the next thing is to definitely progress from the three medals to some nicer colours in Tokyo hopefully.”
It will not be easy, but Mullen is not the sort to be told something is not possible.
Image courtesy of Charles Nurick