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Sportsister chats to Paralympian Sarah Storey
Sarah Storey MBE has an impressive sporting CV, which includes five Paralympic, six World and sixteen European gold medals. Sarah made her international debut in the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics where she won the gold medal in the 100m backstroke, breaking the world record by nearly 4 seconds in the process. More recently she has found success on a bike, most notably last summer in Beijing where she won two golds in the Individual Pursuit and Road Time Trial events.
Sarah spoke to us at the launch of the BT Paralympic World Cup which is the largest annual international multi-sport competition in elite disability sport, and takes place from 20-25 May 2009 in Manchester.
Manchester has been very pro-active in bringing big events to the city, are they a very knowledgeable crowd?
Absolutely. I think the crowd this year will be more knowledgeable and will hopefully be even bigger than it has been in previous years. Everybody is very keen to catch a glimpse of the people they saw on television in Beijing. Especially the cyclists, because we had such an incredible success rate; the Olympic and Paralympic teams won 61 gold medals between them and 25 of those gold medals came from cycling.
We have certainly seen a lot of interest in events at the Velodrome since Beijing and hopefully with five months until the World Cup in May, we have time advertise it well and bring a big crowd in. They’re certainly hungry for it in Manchester, and other events have sold out very quickly. If we ride on the back of the wave of enthusiasm for cycling in general then we should hopefully get a full house.
Are you starting to get recognised, are people asking for your autograph?
It’s funny, just a few weeks ago, I was in the station in Manchester, and I was actually on the phone, I can’t remember who I was talking to, but a lady walked over and squeezed my arm and whispered: “”Well done, you were brilliant!”. Then that was it, she was gone.
It’s a long time since your first games, in Barcelona, have the Paralympics changed a lot during that time?
A whole lot has changed, I was 14 in Barcelona, I won two gold medals and broke two world records and was practically unheard of, I just went back to school and life carried on as normal. And now compare that to Ellie Simmonds and her fabulous success – she has become a household name, so it really does show how the Paralympics has been embraced by the general public, not just sports people, but everyone.
Media coverage is increasing, and it just keeps on getting better. Every time we have a Paralympics, the coverage is better, the response is better and the athletes get the recognition they deserve.
And presumably that follows through with the support you get for your training and funding – has that changed over the years as well ?
Well back in 1993 the Lottery started to give money to sport, to fund teams, to fund facilities and to fund individuals and it’s since that injection of the lottery funding that athletes have been able to go full time and train within very organised squads.
It really has made a huge difference having this structure. The funding has increased year on year and of course, with the London games coming up, sport in the UK has taken a big jump up again. There really is investment in athletes, and we can only hope and pray that that continues into the future.
Are you noticing that more young girls particularly are feeling encouraged and inspired to get involved in sport?
Well I hope so, I think all the sports women around the country hope that if their story and their results can inspire just one other girl to take up sport or just to become more active then that’s great. It’s important to recognise that sport is not necessarily about winning gold medals, girls will become healthier by doing sport, whether that be recreationally or competitively. I think that a healthy mind and a healthy body are just two of the things you can gain from being sporty; ultimately that can only enhance your life.
When you were swimming, did it ever occur to you to cross over into another sport? Or were you just totally focused on swimming at that time?
It never occurred to me at all, I’d always enjoyed watching the pursuit cycling which is my main event on the track now. I always thought that if I had my time again that could be my event. It never crossed my mind that I’d have a completely new career, and be almost back at the beginning.
It’s quite incredible. It all happened by accident. I was training on the bike for fitness reasons while my ear infections were keeping me out of the swimming pool, and if the ear infections hadn’t been so bad I don’t think I would have ever looked at racing a bike.
I was in the right place at the right time and I had such a good grounding in sport whilst growing up – you name it, I did it! So that allowed me to not become too frustrated with swimming, and just transfer/ cross-train, learn a new skill and take a completely different path.
Do you think you’d still be swimming now if it were not for the ear infections?
I don’t know. I think Beijing would have probably been my last games as a swimmer. My swimming coach said at the time I had to make the decision of which sport to do, he said: ‘You’ve done everything in the pool, and more than you’ve even dreamed of. You need to put yourself out of your comfort zone and do something different’.
Would you consider competing in both sports at the Olympics?
No. It was made very clear to me that that wouldn’t be an option. The physical requirements are very different for each sport, for swimming I had big shoulders and in cycling I now have much smaller shoulders and bigger legs. The days have gone where you could do more than one sport now the competition is so fierce, you couldn’t do justice to both sports and would end up not doing either very well.
It must be great being part of a successful squad such as the cycling. Does the success of the others medalists inspire you?
British Cycling is one big team. The Paralympic team and the Olympic team all train at the same place and we all have the same performance director. So to see the first half of the plan go so well was very encouraging, and we knew we were on the right path.
We’d done the same things, we’d had the same support and we had the same equipment. So we knew that as long as we kept focussed then we really couldn’t fail. Everything from the psychology of our head coach to the tiny little blue things you wear over your shoes when you’re racing on the track had been thought of so both teams had the best in the world.
Which of the Olympic wins stood out most for you?
I think some of the most impressive performances were the medals that weren’t gold. Not because the gold medals weren’t fabulous, but for Steven Burke to pick up bronze in the individual pursuit and for Chris Newman to win a medal in the points race, which is such a hit and miss event was very impressive.
I was also impressed by Emma Pooley’s silver medal, and Russ Edwards in the Kieron – those extra medals we picked up made everything so much more impressive. Obviously it was all fantastic, so it’s very difficult to choose.
Danielle Sellwood, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine
Photo credits: Gettyimages.com
The BT Paralympic World Cup is the largest annual international multi-sport competition in elite disability sport, and takes place from 20-25 May 2009 in Manchester.
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Fancy trying track cycling? read our report on Manchester Velodrome