Just three months ago, Peter Genyn looked unstoppable. The Belgian wheelchair racer broke the 100m T51 world record not once, but three times in the space of one month.
At the Nottwil Grand Prix in May Genyn became the first in his class to go under 20 seconds, clocking 19.89. With the Berlin 2018 European Championships just around the corner, Genyn was feeling confident.
However, in July the Belgian suffered a major setback, dislocating his hip as he transferred between chairs. It was a break to his hip bone, falling out of his chair in 2013, that had ended his wheelchair rugby career. Now, just one month out from his third European Championships, Genyn was back on the operating table.
Surgery swiftly followed and thankfully for Genyn the operation went well. Despite the enforced bedrest he remains upbeat about his prospects.
“It’s going well. It won’t be the form of Switzerland, but I’m definitely not going to make it easy for the others!”
Life changing experience
Genyn has every right to be optimistic based on previous European Championships. Four years ago, competing at his first Euros in Swansea, Wales, he made a decision that would change his life.
The event had provided Genyn with his first taste of major international Para athletics competition – and he knew then it would not be his last.
“Swansea 2014 was my first major championships and it was great actually,” reflected Genyn. “It was kind of stressful because I didn’t know what to expect, but I was very pleased with my silver medals there.
“It was the point I decided to invest more in the sport and to get the best equipment.
“If you get a medal you kind of know it’s good. It feels great and you want to do everything you can to repeat it or even improve on it. So, it was a big thing for me being able to get a medal at the Europeans. It motivates you a lot.”
The 41-year-old went on to win double gold at the Doha 2015 World Championships, getting the better of Finnish number one Toni Piispanen.
The pair had known each other since their days on the wheelchair rugby circuit; Piispanen had made the move in to Para athletics first and quickly made a name for himself, winning his first Paralympic title in 2012 then the world title in 2013.
But further success came Genyn’s way at the Grosseto 2016 European Championships; finally, the Belgian was beginning to have faith in his own abilities.
“In Doha I got lucky and Toni made a mistake, because that was the first time I ever beat him,” explained Genyn.
“Being able to take another major championships – for me, that was the same level as the World Championships because Toni was there.
“In the beginning I felt it was Toni who had made the mistake, but after that I started believing more in myself. To be able to beat him again was amazing – it gave me a big boost towards Rio.”
Genyn’s spectacular rise to the top continued with double gold at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games (and a congratulatory phone call from the King of Belgium), then double gold at the London 2017 World Championships.
Despite his injury setback, you would not bet against him returning to the top of the podium again in Berlin.