Head coach of the British para-athletics team, Paula Dunn has her sights set on another successful medal haul at this summer’s Tokyo Paralympic Games.

After coming back from Rio 2016 with a record 33 medals, including 15 golds, the standard has been well and truly set ahead of the showcase event later this year.

Dunn, who was appointed in 2012, has overseen one of the most successful eras in history for British para-athletes, with 13 more golds secured at last year’s World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai.

And with Tokyo now firmly on the horizon, hopes of being among the top-ranked nations once again this year are high.  

“Our medal target is between 25 and 28 medals, we had some retirements at the end of the year, but that’s normal within a cycle,” Dunn said.

“Fortunately, we’ve got some good athletes coming into the season, and if it goes ahead it’s going to be an amazing Games.”

Dunn made history when she took her role on from Peter Eriksson eight years ago, as she became the first female head coach appointed by UK Athletics at the time.

The male-dominance of the coaching network is a well-known talking point within the sport, with coach Christine Bowmaker referring to the scene as an ‘old boy’s network’ as recently as last year.

Almost without knowing, the 1986 Commonwealth gold-medallist had become something of a trailblazer, and she knew that she had to prove herself all over again after life on the track.  

“I just worked really hard for years and years, I just didn’t want it to fail on my watch,” Dunn said.  

 “I never thought about it until somebody told me, but I suppose if I could inspire somebody else that would be brilliant because I always think you need someone to look up to.

“I always think if you don’t see anyone that looks like you in prominent roles you’re never likely to go for them, you have to be brave and trust in yourself. Sometimes it’s easy to say beforehand that you’re not capable of doing it, but you shouldn’t put any boundaries on yourself and just go for it.

“I worked hard and made sure I had a great team around me. I had those hard conversations and made sure I knew what my strengths were and used them all the time. I just kept on trying to develop and be the best that I could be.”

Dunn was talking at a SportsAid event at the London Stadium which was dedicated to championing the parents and guardians of talented young athletes, who are so often the unsung heroes of sporting success.

The charity helps the most promising young British athletes by providing them with financial support and personal development opportunities during the critical early stages of their careers.

And with no discrepancy between Olympic or Paralympic athletes, Dunn believes it is something we can all learn a lesson from.

She said: “I think that’s what is really good about SportsAid, it’s always been integrated and that sends a really strong message, because you’re seeing all the para-athletes across all the sports as equal to the Olympic athletes and understanding that elite is elite.

“It’s really amazing, and something that SportsAid has done long before lots of other organisations.  

“It’s a great charity and makes a huge difference. It’s not just the funding, sometimes it’s the recognition that somebody is realising that you’ve got some potential to succeed which is nice as well.

“People don’t see all the hard work, they just see you on TV but that’s taken six or seven years of it just being you, your coach, your training group and your family just to get to that point.”

SportsAid supports the most promising young British athletes by providing them with a financial award, recognition and personal development opportunities during the critical early stages of their careers. Please visit www.sportsaid.org.uk to find out how you can help the charity support the country’s next generation of sporting heroes!