Cycle Heroes March 7, 2010

British Cycling Hereos - Sarah Storey, OBE

Paralympic Swinning Gold medallist, Paralympic Cycling Gold medallist, GB National Track champion (able-bodied). Twice over. Just some of the achievements that Sarah Storey, OBE, has to her name; a truly inspirational athlete. 

Anyone who achieves success at the highest level deserves respect, but Sarah Storey is more worthy than most. She is Great Britain’s most decorated, currently competing, female Paralympian. Not content with winning 5 gold, 8 silver and 3 bronze over 4 Paralympic Games as a swimmer, Storey switched disciplines in 2005 and went on to win double gold as a cyclist in Beijing in 2008 (winning the 3000m in 3 mins 36.637 seconds, by just 23 one hundreths of a second). Her performance in the pursuit also resulted in a new world record. Nevertheless, despite this slender margin, Storey won the individual pursuit in a time that would have been in the top eight in the Olympic final – as well as the road time trial. On top of this success, Sarah became the first Paralympian to win an individual able-bodied national title, when she won gold in the 3000m Individual Pursuit at the 2008 National Track Championships in Manchester. Oh yes, she then subsequently successfully defended her title at the 2009 event. 

For a normal person, it’s hard to envisage what it must be like to have competed in professional sport for more than half your lifetime. But that is exactly the case with Storey. Born Sarah Bailey, 26 October 1977 in Manchester, she was born with one hand after the bones failed to grow. She began her Paralympic career as a swimmer, winning two golds, three silvers and a bronze in Barcelona in 1992 at 14. Not a bad start by any standard. She continued swimming in the next three Paralympic Games before making the transition to cycling in 2005. There are not many athletes, able bodied or otherwise, that are able to make a successful switch from one sport to another. But this didn't seem to bother Storey who maintained the high standards she set in the pool, on the track. The switch from Paralympic swimmer to Paralympic cyclist is not something Storey takes lightly, commenting, "twelve months on from that life-changing week (in Beijing), I glow with pride, shiver with goose bumps and look forward to my next race....." And that year, after the Beijing wins, she received an OBE in the New Year's Honours List, as well as an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the Manchester Metropolitan University.

Storey's determination to succeed is epitomised by her attitude towards training. She says, “For me, the challenge is about becoming a better athlete, increasing my endurance, my speed, bettering my starts and reducing my time...." Despite the plaudits Storey received after Beijing and her performances in the able-bodied National Championships, she remains utterly committed to her practice regime. The proof is in her list of wins in 2009. She raced every weekend from Easter, won local races, 2 silvers and a bronze at the able-bodied time gtrials for the 10, 25 and 50 miles distances, added 2 more World Cup titles for Paracycling track events and a further 5 National titles at the 30-34 years masters Track Nationals. Unbelieveable. But then if it's been in your blood since, basically forever, it's probably second nature to you.

Storey then raced in the British National Time Trial Championships in September last year and was up against the silver medallist (obviously from GB), Emma Pooley. It was a brave effort from Storey who not only recorded an average of 26 mph for the duration of the 20 mile race, but also delivered more average power (wattage) than at anytime that year. She came forth, just 92 seconds behind Pooley. In an able bodied race. A week later, and after an accident with an idiot who chose not to look before he crossed the road, Storey returned from the World Road Championships held in Italy as GB's most successful rider, having won 2 gold medals from the two events she competed in, the 20km road time trial and a  60km road race.

So what about Sarah's chances in 2012? On competing on home soil in a couple of years time, Storey says, “I have every intention to also be around for London and 2012 and do everything in my power to be faster every year.” And you would say on the strength of her achievements so far, a medal at those games could also be on the cards.


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