Richard Whitehead ready to paint the town gold
RICHARD Whitehead can't wait to get home and share his gold medal glory with Nottingham.
He says he almost cried when he was sent a picture of the gold postbox in his home village of Lowdham by his fiancé Val and then laughed when his mum and dad, Geraldine and John, told him it took them over an hour to make the short walk to see it from their home because so many people stopped them in the street to congratulate them.
And now he is so excited about coming home to a hero's welcome – and says he would love a big celebration in Market Square.
After storming to gold in the T42 200m at the Paralympic Games in London in a new world record time, Whitehead, 36, will run in the 100m tomorrow and will then take part in a special victory parade of GB Olympians and Paralympians in the capital on Monday before returning to his home in Burton Joyce.
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"I can't wait to bring the gold back to Nottingham," he said.
"I've seen a picture of the gold postbox and I think almost everybody in Lowdham came out to tell my mum and dad how pleased they are I won, which is amazing. It's made me really excited about coming back to share my success with Nottingham.
"I've had so much support from so many people in Nottingham.
"I really feel like they have been behind me every step of the way – I even felt it when I was stood at the starting blocks in the final.
"I couldn't have done it without them so hopefully we can have a big celebration when I get back, maybe even in Market Square, who knows."
Whitehead, who was born without lower legs, has slept with his gold medal under his pillow in the Athletes' Village ever since being presented it, adding: "It's a dream come true for me.
"I have overcome a lot of barriers in my life and winning gold just shows anyone can achieve anything if they really want to."
Whitehead was the red-hot favourite to win gold because he went into the Games as the World and European champion and world record holder in the 200m.
But he has revealed his romp to glory was far from straightforward because he fell ill the day before the final and feared he would not even be able to get out of bed on the morning of the race, let alone win it.
"I spent all of the day before in bed because I didn't feel well," he said.
"I had a headache and a temperature.
"I think it was partly down to nervous tension.
"Thankfully we managed to get my temperature down, but I still fell asleep the night before worried I would not be able to get out of bed in the morning, but I didn't tell anyone, not even my coach.
"I still didn't feel great when I woke up, but I stayed calm and got myself into the best possible shape I could for the race."
Having made the starting blocks feeling 80 per cent fit, Whitehead then made a bad start to the race.
"I slipped on the blocks and made a really slow start, but I didn't panic because I knew I could pull it back," he said.
He certainly pulled it back, sweeping from last place to first in spectacular style to thrill the 80,000 crowd inside the Olympic Stadium, which included his mum, dad, fiance and an army of friends to win by a mile in 24.38s.
He was so far in front, in fact, he eased off in the final five metres to give a two-gun salute as a tribute to his hero, Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, as he crossed the finish line.
"I apologised to my coach for easing off and doing the two-gun salute, but he just laughed at me," said Whitehead.
"He said I can do what I want when I'm that far ahead – and I still set a new world record!
"I think I was eighth with 150m to go and sixth with 100m, but I still knew I had won it because I'm so much faster than the rest when I hit my max speed in the straight.
"The roar as I started to come through the field and hit the front was electric. I've never heard anything like it in my life.
"I can't describe what it felt like when I crossed the line. There were so many emotions running through my head, of pride and joy.
"It was a really emotional moment because my mum, dad, fiancé and so many friends were in the crowd.
"Standing on the top step of the podium when I got the gold, with thousands of people singing the national anthem, was amazing too because I'm really patriotic.
"It was the best moment of my life. It was great to win at the Worlds and the Europeans, but to win gold in London tops the lot."
Whitehead does not believe his two-gun salute will be followed by a two-gold salute, however.
He insists he will be proud to reach the final in the 100m.
"I have no expectations of winning a medal," he said.
"I'm always quite slow at the start, but I can pull it back over 200m.
"It's almost impossible to do that over 100m.
"The 200m was the one I wanted to win and I've done that so anything I achieve in the 100m is a bonus.
"If I reach the final I will be really proud.
"I'm just going to go out and give it 100 per cent. I can't wait to get back out there in front of a big crowd again."
With Whitehead though, anything is possible.