Tony Griffin is one of Britain's most celebrated medal winning Paralympians, having won a total of 38 medals in athletics. His first international competition was in 1976 and his Paralympic career reached its pinnacle 8 years later.

Black and white image of Paralympian, Tony Griffin, holding up some of his winning medals

Tony with his winning medals at the New York 1984 Paralympics ©Tony Griffin

Early Life

Tony was born with cerebral palsy in February 1960. He went to his first Paralympics in the south of France aged just 16 and travelled again with the British team to Holland in 1980 four years before his most successful event the New York 1984 Paralympic Games. He recalls getting into athletics from a young age:

I started off at it, about thirteen or fourteen years old at school, like most school kids do. But I got into weightlifting about fourteen with the aim to help my coordination initially but within a few months I had developed quite good muscle stature so I then realised that weightlifting was the one. Apart from helping my coordination – which it did – I began to get quite a nice physique and it progressed from there. The athletics progressed obviously in school.

He also recalled being introduced to Olympic athletes at a young age and highlights how it inspired him to get involved in sports from a young age:

I used to go to a boarding school in Tonbridge and Geoff Capes came to visit us – the shot-putter – and when I saw the sight of this man and what he could do with a shot put I thought “I can’t do that but I can do most of the kind of sport he is involved with.” He brought someone called David Bedford who was a ten thousand-metre runner, to our school as well, and I thought “Well, why can’t I be one?” and that was more the starting point and then took part in school sports, starting throwing javelin and things like this and I thought “Why not?” I was quite good at – or I thought I was!


Griffin talks about Paralympic legacy.

Griffin credits his mother as being his single greatest inspiration in his journey as he says his mother was determined he would not let his disability be an obstacle.

She treated me like any other child . . . I was encouraged to play with the other children on my street and I was treated exactly the same. Had she not done that, I would not be the man I am today.

After her death in 1989 - five years after Griffin won two golds at the 1984 Paralympics - he decided the medals should be buried with her. He claimed:

My mother was the driving force behind everything I had achieved in sport, so I put my medals in with her. It was maybe emotional madness at the time, but I felt it was the right thing to do.

He says there has been a vast improvement since his first Games at the age of 16 as he claims:

My mother wrote to the Daily Mirror in 1976 saying, "my son is going to the Paralympics, are you going to treat him like the star that he is?" he says. She received a polite letter back, basically saying the public were not ready for it. She sacrificed so much. I never thought of myself as disabled. She taught me to be independent.

While the media's coverage of disabled sport has changed radically since those days, Griffin thinks there is still much more improvement to be made:

Paralympic athletes are the same as Olympic athletes . . .When you switch your television on now, you often see Jessica Ennis-Hill. Why aren't we seeing Ellie Simmonds, for example? It's up to the media to make it happen.

He also remembers his experience of his most successful event to date, the New York 1984 Paralympic Games. President Ronald Reagan opened the Games and Tony even found time to call his mum from the top of the Empire State Building.

It was a very special moment, meeting the most powerful man in the world . . . it was a split second thing at the opening ceremony. He shook everyone's hand. We were treated like stars there. It didn't matter whether you were in a wheelchair or not. But it has taken a long time to get the same reaction in this country. I called my mum after I got a silver in the weightlifting. I was disappointed to be honest because I had trained so hard and I wanted the gold. But I guess I didn't do too badly.

Experience of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony

During the 2012 Olympics Griffin performed in an aerial display in front of the 62,000 strong-crowd with Aerobility — a charity which trains disabled people to become pilots. He recalls:

I was contacted by the Paralympic Association with a view to taking part in the opening ceremony. They said it was at height and I read the email and I ignored it at first – I thought, well: “height, I don’t like heights”. So that was a point of worry but I thought: “It’s the opening ceremony, I’ve got to do this” because this is the last time I will take part in a major competition at a Paralympic level, even though I am not competing I’m taking part on the biggest show piece on earth so I said “yes, I’ll have a go”.

Griffin also highlights the intense training he had to go through in order to prepare for the ceremony:

I spent eight weeks going back and forwards from London to Bolton to London every day to do this training. So I really pushed myself to take part in this competition, well not a competition, take part in this worldwide event.

Achievements and awards

Griffin received the BEM from the Lord Lieutenant of Greater Manchester, Warren J Smith, at a special honours’ ceremony. He is also a patron of the Bolton Society for Blind People, promoting their services and assisting their fundraising efforts, and has also helped the Mayor of Bolton’s Charity Fund. Griffin is a stalwart of the Fairtrade movement and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award at the Bolton Sports Awards in 2006. He is one of the local sportspeople on the Spirit of Sport monument.

Tony was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science in 2015 by the University of Bolton for his Sporting and Community achievements, nominated by Horwich’s Cllr Richard Sylvester.

Cllr Sylvester claims:

Tony is affectionately known as The Golden Griffin because of all the medals he won in his career representing the UK. He is a humble person and a true Boltonian and a real ambassador for our town. I am proud to call him a friend. He is a Bolton Sports Ambassador and continues to promote the ideals of the Paralympic and Olympic philosophy to school children around the country. He is a great credit to the town and I am pleased that his achievements continue to be recognised.

Griffin now promotes sport within English schools. Ahead of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, he lit the cauldron in Stoke Mandeville and took part in the opening ceremony as an aerial performer. His image features on the 30m high Spirit of Sport sculpture in Bolton, along with hundreds of other local sporting heroes.

Now Tony has taken his rightful place alongside Amir Khan, Jason Kenny and hundreds of other Bolton greats on the Spirit of Sport statue at Bolton Wanderer's Reebok Stadium.

Interviews with Tony Griffin

Interviewed by Neil Young, November 2012

How did you first get involved in Athletics?

Initially, I started off at it, about thirteen or fourteen years old at school, like most school kids do. But I got into weightlifting about fourteen with the aim to help my coordination initially but within a few months I had developed quite good muscle stature so I then realised that weightlifting was the one. Apart from helping my coordination – which it did – I began to get quite a nice physique and it progressed from there. The athletics progressed obviously in school. I took part in regular competitions and began to win events and then [inaudible] … so I was selected for national competition at a very early age – say fifteen – and again I went for national competitions, doing the similar events – Indian club, javelin mainly but also other events like football [inaudible] … but all these events were suited to my health. My training was geared to those events and I got better and better, from strength to strength and before I knew it I was in the British team getting mentioned in the business all over the world.

As part of the heritage of the Paralympic movement of this country, what would you say to young people getting involved in athletes?

I mentioned school visits that I do as a Paralympian and my message to them, to parents, is: “get your children involved with sport” whether they have a disability or whether they have not got a disability”. Sport is for all and I think children should get their children involved at an early age. How it happened for me it was possible physiotherapy at first but I started to like sport and when I do my presentations I show them my pictures of me with various Olympic stars, Paralympic stars in front of these children, these students: “be in involved with sport and you can travel the world the same as I have”. You may not be always top class athletes, students for example they could become physiotherapists or doctors. But you could still be involved with sport and travel around the world with the British team treating athletes. So travelling with those who can help through sport, not [inaudible] just be involved and that’s what I tell people when I visit schools. At their age they can do anything they want to in life and the parents that have got disabled children: “Look at me I have five or six children and my life is brilliant really and there’s no reason anybody’s who’s got a disability shouldn’t have the life I have had, have the children I’ve got. I consider myself to be as normal as a normal person is and there is no reason why any disabled person shouldn’t be the same – or a disabled child or student – can do what I’ve done. And my message is simple: “go to your sports clubs, take part in local school sports days. Anything can happen with the right mental attitude and the right support of parents, teachers etc. I did it so why can’t you?”

Download a pdf of Tony's full interview here

Tony discusses the Paralympic legacy