At 37, Lakatos only getting better; could climb medal podium 5 times in London

Lakatos adds 1,500 to repertoire for worlds

At 37 years old, and as the owner of a massive world and Paralympic medal collection, Canada’s Brent Lakatos had considered calling it a career after these World Para Athletics Championships.

Then a funny thing happened. He got faster.

Now the wheelchair racer from Dorval, Que., is poised to climb the medal podium at the world championships which open Friday at London’s Olympic stadium.

“There was a really good chance that this was going to be my last season,” Lakatos said from London. ”But then with the times that I posted this year, I don’t want it to be my last season, so now 2020 (Tokyo Paralympics) is definitely on the table.”

Lakatos owns 12 world medals, and seven Paralympic medals in distances spanning 100 to 800 metres. He’s added another race to his repertoire this season, breaking the world record in the 1,500 last month in Switzerland during a heady 10 days that saw him wheel to five world record times.

“It’s always been my favourite event, since I started back in 1996, just because it’s a really fun distance, it’s not too long but there’s lots of strategy and stuff going on,” Lakatos said. “But it’s the first year that I’ve been competitive in it.”

The 1,500, he said, requires a decent average speed, a good strategy, the ability to accelerate into a sprint — all the while avoiding the almost-inevitable crashes.

“I raced the 1,500 here last year at the Anniversary Games and I did crash. Some of my shoulder is still on the track somewhere,” Lakatos said with a laugh.

Like the relentless evolution of Formula 1 racing, Lakatos constantly tinkers with his equipment. This season, new gloves have been a game-changer. Wheelchair racers don’t grip the wheels so much as punch them. He has a pair of “soft gloves” made of foam and rubber for the sprints, and he added a pair for the 800 and 1,500 made of hard plastic moulded to the hands with rubber on top.

“They transfer the energy of your push much more efficiently into the rim, and so you can’t accelerate as quickly, but over a longer distance, they don’t use as much energy once you get up to a good speed,” he explained. ”These gloves have opened up the 800 and 1,500 and next year I might try doing the 5,000, because they’re just so much better for distance.”

Lakatos, who races in a white helmet with a black maple leaf, lives in Loughborough, England — about a two-hour drive from London — with his wife, British long jumper Stef Reid.

He’s been a paraplegic since he was six, when he fell and slid into the boards while skating. The injury didn’t seem serious at first, but he woke up the next morning to pain and numbness. A broken blood vessel had put pressure on his spinal column.

He’s racing the 100, in which he won gold at last summer’s Rio Paralympics, plus the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 at the worlds, which run through July 23. He opens Sunday with the heats and hopefully finals of both the 200 and 1,500. He’s the only competitor doing both those events.

“It’s going to be fun,” he insisted.

The Canadian looks forward to record crowds for the event. Organizers announced three weeks ago that more than 230,000 tickets had been sold — more than the previous eight editions of the world para championships combined.

“It’s really great to be back in London because the Paralympics here (in 2012) were so amazing,” Lakatos said.

He headlines a team of 24 Canadian athletes that features some familiar faces from Rio, plus some newcomers.

“Athletics Canada has been focused on recruitment heavily over the past couple of year so we’ve got a bunch of young athletes, so that’s great, they’re building for the future.”

Lori Ewing , The Canadian Press

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