With the London 2012 Olympic Games starting exactly two years today, to be followed a month later by the Paralympic Games, Great Britain’s Sarah Storey has been talking about her plans to try and claim a berth in the Team GB cycling squad at both events.
“For me the Paralympics is my sixth games, so I’m almost the grandma of the team,” says Storey in an interview with the BBC. Making her debut as a swimmer at Barcelona in 1992 when she was just 14 years of age, between then and 2004, Storey won 16 Paralympic medals in the pool – five gold, eight silver and three bronze – before switching to cycling for Beijing, where she won gold in the time trial and the individual pursuit.
Storey, who now rides professionally for the Horizon Fitness team, formed earlier this year, says that the potential opportunity to compete in the Olympics “would be a first for me, a first for cycling. It would just blow me away, it would be phenomenal to do that.”
Now aged 32, Storey first hopes to compete for England in the team pursuit and road time trial in this October’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October. “We’re just taking baby steps at the moment, starting to get familiar with the team pursuit event as it is, continuing to push forward on the road time trial event that’s always been a good strength and see how it goes,” she explains.
It’s obvious that she relishes the challenge. Asked what she needed to do to secure a place on the team, Storey, who recently completed the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, says, “If I get the selection in two years it will be all about whether or not I’m technically as capable as I am physically. There’s no argument that I’ve got good numbers coming out of the rig in the lab, that I’ve got some good scores on the individual pursuit.”
Storey continues: “It’s no guarantee that a great individual pursuiter will be a great team pursuiter, but I’ve always enjoyed that process of learning new things and getting to grips really with a new event. As a swimmer I did probably seven or eight different events in one games, so for me it’s like another natural process really.”
Switching to new sporting disciplines has been second nature to Storey since her earliest days. As an all-round sportsperson, she comes across as a younger, female version of the classic comic strip hero, Wilson of the Wizard, when she runs through some of her achievements.
“I guess the challenge is not just it’s a new event, it’s a new sport altogether,” she reveals. “When I was a kid I used to do every sport going, I was on the boys’ cricket team for a while, I played on the county netball team, I was the county table tennis champion, I ran for the county and swimming was the first sport that chose me at international level. So it’s not unfamiliar territory to be doing a different sport,” she claimed.
Storey’s move into cycling itself came from her willingness to try something new and her innate ability to excel at it. “When my ears were bad in 2005 and I didn’t have the opportunity to be in the pool training, I used the bike to stay fit, and I suppose you could say it got out of hand, by the time my ear infection had gone, I was a world record holder on the track and I’d won the European road race, the rest is history as they say,” reveals Storey, whose husband, Barney, is himself a double Paralympic gold medal winner as tandem pilot to Anthony Kappes in Beijing.
As well as her ambitions to compete with the world’s best able-bodied cyclists, Storey, who was born with a deformity of her left hand, is targeting further Paracycling success, with the World Track Championships taking place in Canada in August, followed by the World Road Championships at a venue yet to be decided later in the year.
“Last year I was fortunate to win two gold medals on the road and two gold medals on the track so I’ve got four titles to defend, so it’s going to be a busy schedule to keep to,” says the Mancunian. “And also you never know, the times can compare quite favourable, so if I do a great time at the Paracycling Track World, then that could stand me in good stead for selection to the able-bodied team. So it all crosses over quite nicely,” she concludes.
So far, five people have competed in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. They are New Zealand’s Neroli Fairhall and Italy’s Paola Fantato, both in archery, the American marathon runner Maria Runyan, Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka and the South African swimmer, Natalie du Toit.
Besides Storey, Irish sprinter Jason Smyth, gold medallist in the 100 metres, who is visually impaired and won Paralympic gold in the 100 and 200 metres at Beijing and trains alongside former world champion Tyson Gay, hopes to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics in London.
For more news on Sarah Storey and the rest of the Horizon Fitness team, visit www.onthedrops.com.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.