Cyril was born in 1928 and died in April 2014 aged 86.

Life as a Paralympic Athlete

After suffering a mining accident at the age of 27 in which he fractured his spine, Cyril began playing sports as part of his rehabilitation at Lodge Moor hospital in Sheffield. Cyril was most remembered for his success in wheelchair basketball and fencing.

Speaking about his time at Lodge Moor Hospital where he spent months recuperating,

When I first started I used to play wheelchair basketball, it was while we were at Sheffield we mapped the car park out to be a court and people used to come and watch us because it was unusual. We would just be in the chair you were given for your disability, not like the equipment they have these days. The people playing were miners, painters who had fallen off ladders or people who had been in motorbike accidents.

Cyril attended National Games at Stoke Mandeville before the first Paralympic Games in 1960 where he competed in wheelchair basketball. He took fencing up in 1963 and won his first gold at the Tokyo 1964 Paralympics. 

It was very good to get gold for fencing. The crowds were massive, it was very popular. The highlight of my career was Japan as it wasn't that long after the war and everybody thought I had made a mistake going. They were absolutely brilliant hosts and looked after us.

Competing in a further 4 Paralympic Games, Cyril went on to win many more medals in wheelchair fencing.

Recollections 

In an interview in 2012, Cyril said,

It has been good to me being disabled, it has kept me fit. It must have done me good somehow. Anybody who has this kind of injury should do some wheelchair sport.

Tributes to Cyril after his death

Caz Walton, former fencing teammate, said this tribute after his death,

Cyril Thomas was a superb fencer and a member of the best British sabre team I have ever seen. Always a sporting gentleman, Cyril was one of the nicest people I have met and a credit to his sport and his country. 

Speaking of the match against Australia in the Commonwealth Games in 1970, teammate Terry Willet spoke of Cyril as the star player,

He was a good friend of mine, another former miner, big chap, six foot four and knuckles like a dust pan. And this Mather Brown kept trying to knobble Cyril; he had nearly chopped his hand off on a couple of occasions in the match and eventually Cyril just wheeled up to him and shouted, “Do that again and I’ll flatten you!” And what do you know?  Five minutes later Mather Brown did just that. So Cyril went up and laid him one, right on the nose, knocked him out cold. Cyril was sent off with a smile on his face, Brown was out of the match too; and we went on and won it and took the gold. It was one of the hardest Games I ever played.

Retirement as a Paralympic Athlete

Cyril had a long career as a Paralympian, last participating at the Seoul 1988 Paralympic Games when he was 60 years old.

Achievements and Awards

Paralympic Games

In the first official Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960, Cyril won bronze in wheelchair basketball. He then took up wheelchair fencing winning: gold in Individual Foil and bronze in the Epee Team at the Tokyo 1964 Paralympics; bronze medal in the Men’s Foil team at the Tel Aviv 1968 Paralympics; bronze in Team and Individual Epee and gold in the Sabre team at the Heidelberg 1972 Games; gold in Sabre Individual and three further silver medals in Epee Individual, Epee team, and Sabre Team at the Toronto 1976 Paralympics. He then took a break, before competing in his final Paralympics at the Seoul 1988 Games, where he won bronze in Sabre individual.

References

  • https://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1019846/british-three-time-paralympic-wheelchair-fencing-champion-thomas-dies-aged-86: tributes after the news of his death
  • https://www.paralympic.org/cyril-thomas: Competitions and medals
  • https://issuu.com/cronweb/docs/barnsley-independent-29-august-2012/8: Interview before the 2012 Games