Wheelchair basketball legend switches to shooting as she targets Paralympic Games spot

Five-time Paralympian Ann Wild OBE has swapped her first love of wheelchair basketball for shooting as she bids to qualify for London 2012 and win an elusive Games medal.

Wild, from Ilford, had initially represented Team GB as a 14-year-old at the 1988 Seoul Games — an experience she describes as ‘mind-blowing’ — and went on to captain the team, but continually came up short in her quest to reach the podium.

The women’s team’s best result was a creditable sixth place at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, while Wild was also in the squad for Sydney (2000), Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008).

Injury forced Wild to retire from wheelchair basketball in 2009, but after being encouraged to take up shooting by the British Paralympic Association, her dream of a Paralympic Games medal has been reignited once again.

“I want to win the elusive medal, of course,” she said.

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“It’s the only major honour I’ve never won. I don’t like to say it’s an obsession, but I suppose it is. That motivation is always there to do the best that I possibly can.

“I have gone into every Games hoping for the same thing and this will be no different. I always give 100 per cent.

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“I’m not too disappointed, because the experience of competing at a Paralympics is incredible in its own right and to have been involved in 1988, the first time the Olympics and Paralympics combined, was just magical.”

Wild, 38, became the first female to compete in the men’s National League Premier Division in 1990 and counts winning the World International Cha-mpionship and three European Championship bronze medals among her career highlights.

A decorated wheelchair basketball career came to an end in April 2009 due to injury and she underwent brain and spinal surgery 12 months ago.

But the multi-talented sportswoman was keen to get back into a competitive environment after her recovery and admits her progress from amateur P2 10-metre shooter to Paralympic hopeful in little over a year, has come as a pleasant surprise.

“I felt I had more to give,” said Wild. “I had brain surgery in January, which means I can’t play contact sport anymore.

“But the BPA have a talent transfer scheme and suggested I take up shooting, so I just went from there.

“I first picked up an air pistol in late 2010. I’d never done it before, but luckily I seem to be quite good at it!

“I needed to make the qualifying scores to be eligible for selection for the GB squad, which I achieved at the World Wheelchair Games in Sharjah in December, so I was delighted.

“I’m not going to pre-empt anything, I need to be selected for the Games first, but I never go into anything half-heartedly.

“I always go for the shiny thing. You have to believe you can do it.”

To be eligible for Olympic selection, shooters are required to register a minimum qualification standard score of 347 at a recognised qualifying event, under International Paralympic Committee guidelines.

After scoring a personal best 354 in Sharjah to finish sixth, Wild would appear to be on course for a place at this summer’s showpiece.

Should she make it, Wild is confident switching from a team to an individual competition will not prove a problem and feels competing at her sixth Games would be the best experience yet.

“Each one has its own special moment, but everything stands second to a home Games,” said Wild.

“It’s great to be part of Team 2012 as well and have the opportunity for elite training. I am very grateful to have their support.

“It has been difficult getting tickets. But people will have the chance to come and see our team compete, which is wonderful.

“It’s going to be a huge change going from a team sport to an individual one.

“The main difference is I will have to be more focused on myself, but as captain of the basketball team I tended to take the brunt of most things, so it won’t cause me too many problems.”

Relatively new to the sport, the possibility remains that Wild could miss out on a place at the Paralympics this year — should her GB rivals outscore her and be considered more likely candidates for a medal charge.

But is London 2012 the last time we could see Wild in a Team GB tracksuit?

“Never say never,” she added. “I have learned that from Steve Redgrave.”

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