Lee Manning was over the moon to lead England to wheelchair basketball bronze in his own backyard.
Manning, Charlie McIntyre, Abderrahim Taghrest and Tyler Baines could have been crushed by a last-minute 12-11 defeat to Australia in the semi-finals.
But instead, they came out firing against Malaysia, going 13-8 up and then embarking on a dominant 8-3 run to take victory in front of an adoring Smithfield crowd.
“What they were able to do today is unbelievable and takes guts, pride, resilience, every word you can produce, to do that,” said Manning, who is one of over 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.
“Yesterday knocked us. It hurt, there's no two ways about it. We came in expecting and wanting gold.
“To take that pain and turn that energy into a performance is special. I’m unbelievably proud to have been on the court and on the side cheering my little heart out for them.
“It was never going to be an individual thing; it was a team thing. As the leader of the group, I take the loss on myself, I’m never going to put it on the other guys.
“I tried my best as an athlete yesterday, but I think I should have tried more as a leader in that moment. That’s why today was about giving those guys that opportunity back.
“I wanted them to play in front of 2,500 home fans to give it their all and see how special this can be.”
Paralympian Manning, 32, has been the spiritual leader of a young team that rode the wave of winning both group matches against South Africa and Malaysia.
McIntyre, who at 17 is one of the youngest athletes in the whole of Team England, paid tribute to Manning’s leadership qualities.
He said: “Lee leading us has helped us so much in this whole journey, not just on the court but off the court.
“For a lot of us it’s our first major tournament but he’s shown us how to behave off the court. He’s helped us so much and we’re so grateful to have had him here helping us.”
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