After her double gold at the 2012 London Paralympics, Hannah Cockroft is looking to go one step further in Rio this summer. Lee Sobot reports.
LEEDS City Athletics Club speedster Hannah Cockroft set the bar as high as potentially possible on her Paralympics debut in 2012.
Not only did the Halifax-based ace win gold in both the T34 100m and 200m events but victory in both was achieved with new world records.
There is, though, a way the 23-year-old can better London 2012 in Rio and no nonsense Cockroft admits she would be disappointed with anything other than a hat-trick of golds.
Cockroft, 23, remains the clear leading force in the T34 classification of wheelchair racing with the speedster boasting a hugely impressive roll of honour over the last seven years.
That roll of honour would be perfect but for defeat to 14-year-old British rival Kare Adenegan over 400m in a race in London in September last year.
Cockroft, who bagged two golds at London 2012 and doubles at both the 2011 and 2013 World Championships, admitted at the time that a surprise defeat left her “shocked, upset and confused.”
The setback came one month short of her bid to conquer a third World Championship which posed the new challenge of new 400m and 800m events.
But October’s Worlds in Doha produced a familiar outcome – victory in every event entered – and now Cockroft is confident of a similar outcome at this year’s Paralympics which could even better her maiden Games of 2012.
Cockroft will compete in the 100m, 400m and 800m in Rio and told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “The aim is simple – three gold medals in Rio and I honestly will be disappointed if I get anything less. If I continue to train the way I am right now and perform the way I am right now then I definitely believe I am capable of doing so.
“It was a tough year last year. I had balancing uni and training and being away from home and it was a lot to come on one year.
“I had my first loss in over 300 races and seven years and I will never let that happen again!
“It was tough and the girl who beat me was a team-mate, Kare Adenegan, the only T34 woman to ever beat me and was only 14 years old which was a little bit embarrassing. But I had on off day, everyone has on off day.
“At the time, it was horrible and I was so upset but actually I’m so glad it happened then and not at the World Championships.
“I made mistakes and I learnt from them and I went to Doha and did what I knew I could do best. Hopefully I can go on for another seven or eight years, it would be nice if I could beat it again!
“I made a few mistakes in Doha but at the end of the day at a competition like that it’s the medals that count. The times that you get there don’t really matter.
“But to win three golds at Doha was fantastic and I couldn’t have planned it any better if I had tried. I’ve just got to do it again in five months’ time now!”
Cockroft was not surprisingly honoured for her stellar 2015 efforts at last month’s Leeds Sports Awards where the Halifax star was named disability sportswoman of the year.
Yet the wheelchair racer says her triumph in edging out Sophie Carrigill and Kadeena Cox actually came as a surprise.
“It was a massive honour just to be there, just to be on the shortlist,” said Cockroft.
“It’s nice to come home and be recognised and for people to still follow your progress, no matter where you are in the world, especially when you still can’t be in Leeds every week for training.
“The shortlist for disability sportswoman was so strong this year – Kadeena, who is obviously my team-mate but also a fantastic athlete in another sport.
“I honestly thought she was going to win it so it was quite a surprise and then you have Sophie as well who is so young and captain of her basketball team.
“I know how good that is having come from that sport.
“Just to be on a shortlist with two incredible women is a massive honour.
“For Yorkshire, and Leeds, to recognise me four years on from London 2012 is fantastic.”
It’s a fair bet both will be recognising the speedster for plenty more years to come and this year’s road to Rio will begin when Cockroft begins her competitive season next month.
But the Halifax star will not be competing at this summer’s European Championships. Instead, it is the Swiss Grand Prix that will provide the year’s pre-Paralympics acid test.
Cockroft explained: “I start competing in early May and I have got a few domestic competitions around Britain and then probably the biggest one for the team is the European Championships but I have opted out of the European Championships this year because I don’t have strong European rivals. They are in June and I would be flying all the way to Italy to compete against two girls from Great Britain so we can line up against each other on a home track and feel a lot more comfortable.
“There really is no need and a week before that we have the Swiss Grand Prix and the Paralympic line up will be there for every single race.
“That is the most important race prior to the Paralympics – seeing where the other girls are at, seeing where I need to work on and what I need to work on three months out from the Games and seeing where I’m at – how I am performing and if I am still no 1 in the world.”
It’s a ranking Cockroft and the sport has become highly familiar with, and at just 23 years of age there is little chance of Rio proving a Paralympics swan song.
“I’d like to go to Tokyo,” admitted Cockroft. “I think it will be a fantastic Games and then we’ll just see what happens after that.
“I don’t have a diagnosis for my disability so I don’t really know how long I am going to be able to sit in the chair for. But as long as I can push I will be on the track.”