Finland’s Leo Pekka Tahti is aiming to retain his 100m T54 crown at August’s IPC Athletics European Championships in Swansea, Great Britain, but knows that to do so he will have to beat some of the best wheelchair racers in the world.
Tahti, 31, has dominated the 100m T54 event for the last decade winning three Paralympic golds and two world titles. In Swansea, between 18-23 August, he will compete in the 100m, 200m and 400m and is looking forward to going head-to-head with his big rivals Marc Schuh of Germany and Kenny van Weeghel of the Netherlands.
“My goal is to win 100m in Swansea and medal in the 200m.” said Tahti. “I will try to challenge Kenny Van Weeghel over 200m but that's going to be very difficult. Kenny almost broke the 200m world record a few months ago so I really have to raise my level.
“The 100m is my favourite event. I set my first world record time in 2006 and won my first Paralympic gold medal in Athens in 2004. I have been on top for the last 10 years so I have to say that 100m is absolutely my best event. I have good acceleration which is the most important part of the race.”
Despite the intense rivalry between the trio of racers, Tahti has huge respect for his opponents. He is also impressed at the quality of athletes set to compete in Swansea and believes the 400m will be the most open race of them all. “Kenny is always a very strong athlete. We have a long history and I really appreciate him. I can't ever underestimate him. Last year and this year Kenny has been in very strong shape and I think he will be my main rival over 100m in Swansea,” said Tahti, the 100m world record holder.
“Marc Schuh is much younger than me but he has potential to do great times on the track. Over 200m he has a little bit better PB than me so I guess we will have a very good race in Swansea. In the 400m he set the European record some years ago and for me he is one of the big names.
“My opinion is there are maybe four or five guys who can win the 400m, so I’ll have to give 110 per cent if I want to get a medal.”
Tahti is not the only Finnish wheelchair athlete in medal contention at Swansea 2014. His teammates Henry Manni and Toni Piispanen are also likely podium finishers in the T34 and T52 classes respectively and both credit Tahti as the inspiration for taking up wheelchair racing. The future for the sport is bright in Finland according to Tahti.
“When I started wheelchair racing 15 years ago I was alone. Five years later I won two gold medals in Athens 2004. After that we got some new potential racers in Finland. It's very important to get new good role models for young athletes.
“Also Finnish media are now more interested about disability sport in Finland and that is of course very important for the young athletes. Coaching is at a better level as well than 15 years ago. It seems that we have at least four potential athletes in Rio and all these athletes have a great chance to win there, which is great !”
Tahti will be one of 560 athletes from 39 countries competing at the Swansea 2014 IPC Athletics European Championships between 18-23 August.
Tickets for the event at Swansea University are now on-sale and can be purchased via www.swansea2014.com/tickets Prices start from £3 per session.