Good Causes

Dame Sarah’s family affair

If it wasn’t for the coronavirus pandemic, the opening ceremony of The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics would have been held on 24th August 2020. Instead, the event will take place from 24th August to 5th September 2021. The postponement means there is exactly a year to go before The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics get underway. We caught up with champion cyclist Dame Sarah Storey to talk about the impact of the postponement, the challenge of training during lockdown and the pressures of defending the titles she won at the Rio Games.

Family means the world to Dame Sarah Storey, the most decorated female British Paralympian of all time. As a result, the decision to delay the Tokyo 2020 Games by a year may help make the event extra special for the 42-year-old cyclist and her young family.

Dame Sarah, who first became a Paralympian in 1992, will be competing in her 8th Games next summer. She will be sharing her Tokyo adventure with her husband, Barney, as well as her children, Louisa, 7, and Charlie, 2.

Louisa is already old enough to have witnessed her cycling mum do what she does best. But the postponement of Tokyo 2020 means her younger brother will have a greater appreciation of the event when it begins on 24th August 2021.

Dame Sarah is one of 1,100 athletes on UK Sport’s World Class Programme, a National Lottery-funded scheme providing access to world-class coaches, support and pioneering technology. In Tokyo, she will be looking to add to the 864 Olympic and Paralympic medals won by British athletes since National Lottery funding for elite sport was introduced in 1997.

Dame Sarah said, “Tokyo 2020 is going to be a mark in history. Hopefully everything goes smoothly in the next year, but for me it will mean my son is a year older and hopefully more likely to remember the Games.

“Charlie’s going to be three in October, so he might not have remembered as much had it been this year. It’s going to be really exciting to see how he gets on with his first Games and to see Louisa’s reactions five years on from Rio.”

Dame Sarah readily admits the task of defending the three gold medals she won in Rio is both exciting and daunting. She said, “Seeing if matching those achievements from Rio is possible or not is a great challenge and as an athlete not afraid of failure, I want to see how far I can go.”

The coronavirus has presented elite athletes with unprecedented challenges with events cancelled or postponed and training programmes interrupted. A return to sport still hangs in the balance – but for swimmer-turned-cyclist Dame Sarah, this is not an unfamiliar situation.

She said, “I feel like I’m at a point similar to where I was in both my pregnancies – I didn’t know when my next competition was going to be. The difference this time is that I don’t have a big bump to contend with.

“Psychologically, I feel in a good place with it all and ready to bounce back quickly when we need to and when events do start coming back.”

One aspect of training during a pandemic – the increased use of online cycling races – may have long-term benefits. Dame Sarah said, “Online racing has created a different impetus to training so hopefully we’ve found something new and beneficial that we can take forward after racing. In the final few weeks before a Games, you want to protect yourself to avoid injury, so racing online may be the best way to go.”

Dame Sarah is keen to underline the importance of the support she has received thanks to National Lottery players. She said, “I’ve been on the World Class Programme since its inception in 1997, and it’s been an incredible project to be a part of. It’s enabled me to be an athlete first and provided me the opportunity to train full-time while seeking other strings to add to my bow.

“People may not realise the impact they have when they go and buy their National Lottery ticket, but the part they play, not just in sport but in other good causes, is incredible.”

24th August 2020

Photo: SWPix

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