Big Interview: Leeds is home from home for Cockroft

Hannah Cockroft.
Hannah Cockroft.
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THERE’S A rather cosmopolitan feel to wheelchair racer Hannah Cockroft’s life.

The 24-year-old’s exploits take her from country to country and the athlete hopes this summer’s triple Olympic golden haul in Brazil is ultimately matched by something similar in Japan in four years’ time.

Hannah Cockroft presents Leeds City Athletics Club with commemorative piece of the London 2012 track.

Hannah Cockroft presents Leeds City Athletics Club with commemorative piece of the London 2012 track.

Even Cockroft’s family has a global feel with one brother living in Pennsylvania and another in Finland.

Leeds, though, remains an integral part of the speedster’s make up – nine years after the Halifax-born racer first joined Leeds City Athletics Club.

Cockroft will quite literally command three cheers this Christmas after a superb year that featured a hat-trick of gold medals at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Four years after topping the London 2012 podium in both the 100m and 200m in her T34 classification, Cockroft showed admirable versatility to win new events at 400m and 800m in Rio, as well as defending her title in the shortest distance of all.

The Team GB star already has her eyes on next year’s World Championships in London – whatever distances are required of her – and there will be plenty to celebrate this Christmas at the athlete’s home with parents Rachel and Graham in Mount Tabor – on the outskirts of Halifax.

It is an area of Yorkshire where Cockroft can often be found training and racing around the local roads, if not strutting her stuff on her local track in Halifax or at Team GB’s headquarters in Loughborough.

Leeds, though, was the city most responsible for the athlete’s rise to fame and Cockroft will never forget it.

The former Calderdale College pupil joined Leeds City Athletics Club as a teenager to be coached by Paul Moseley and returned to her roots recently to present her club with a commemorative piece of the London 2012 track that she claimed double gold on four years ago.

“I try and get down as often as I can,” Cockroft told the YEP, making no secret of her affection for Leeds and Leeds City Athletics Club.

“The team train on Thursday nights so it kind of depends where in the country I am or where in the world I am.

“But if I ever find myself with a free Thursday night then I always pop down and do a session with them and just having people around you to train with just makes you all a little bit more motivated.

“It makes it a little bit more fun and they are a great bunch of guys and a great club really.

“I have known them from the start so to be able to come back and also chat to some of the newer members is really nice.

“It’s nice that they get inspired and it was brilliant to be back.

“I brought the medals down and I was able to see the team and to be able to come down and present them with a piece of the London 2012 track.

“I have been a member of the Leeds Athletics Club for the last nine years so they have been there for the whole journey.

“They have been there from the start and to give them a little piece of history was hopefully a good enough thank you for everything they have given me.

“It was nice to come back.

“It was nice to see new members, new faces and old faces and just show them that even training on freezing cold nights like we have had recently is worth it!”

Longer term, much warmer climes will be on the agenda in four years’ time with Cockroft already setting her sights on the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics – an event that would be the racer’s third Games.

At just 24 years of age, Cockroft already has five Paralympic golds and has 15 years in hand on Dame Sarah Storey – currently Britain’s most successful Paralympian ever with a staggering 14 golds.

Cockroft, though, has had no thoughts about even getting close to Storey’s terrific feat.

“I think she is now on 14 golds now and that’s quite a lot,” laughed Cockroft.

“I am only looking right now at Tokyo and I am not sure what is going to happen beyond that and I can’t really go from five to 14 in one Games. That would be really tough.

“I just want to go out and want to win any event that is on offer to me. I will put everything I can into doing that and see how it goes.

“I am back in training now already and we have got the World Championships in London in July.

“I am not 100 per cent sure what events I have on offer there, but I will be going for as many golds as I can.

“To get back in front of a home crowd and back in the London stadium will again be an incredible experience.

“I am looking forward to that and then whatever comes on the way to Tokyo it comes. But Tokyo 2020 is the next big aim.”

First, though, comes an opportunity to relax over Christmas – with Cockroft on a gap year from her degree in journalism at Coventry University and having recently moved back home with mother and father in Mount Tabor.

The Paralympian’s brothers Joshua and Daniel live in Finland and Pennsylvania, respectively, and for Joshua in particular this coming Christmas will see the achievements of his younger sister really hit home.

Cockroft explained: “All the family is coming back and one of my brothers, Josh, hasn’t even seen my medals from Rio yet.

“I saw him two days before I flew out to Rio – that’s the only time I have seen him this year so, hopefully, it’s something nice for him to come back to.”

In all likelihood, further medals will be added to the collection in 2017 with Cockroft already counting down the days to next year’s London Worlds – and whatever events the International Paralympic Committee throw at her. Be it 100m, 200m, 400m or 800m, Cockroft has won them all.

“I am hoping we will get the one, four and eight,” said Cockroft.

“If they throw a two in there that would be fantastic because I love the two but it’s always hard to say.

“The International Paralympic Committee have to look at participation numbers and whether it’s worth having that many events.

“We had a small classification in Rio, simply because some of the girls got ill and pulled out.

“We’ll just have to see but, hopefully, they will give me a good three or four chances to up my medal tally!”

Pieces of the original London 2012 track have been made into a range of exclusive sporting memorabilia and are available to purchase from london2012track.com.

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