Paralympic Games: Leeds’s Cockroft has sights set on 2012 gold

Hannah Cockcroft
Hannah Cockcroft
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AFTER breaking seven world records in eight days during 2010, Hannah Cockroft probably thought she’d had her fair share of wheelchair racing success.

But it in 2011 it has only got better, the voluntary Leeds City Council worker is now a two-time world champion and one of Britain’s brightest hopes for next year’s Paralympic Games.

Cockroft, 18, only began wheelchair racing as a 13-year-old after a simple have-a-go session at a university open day. Five years on she is the worldwide queen of the track, winning both the 100m and 200m races at the recent World Championships in New Zealand.

Realistically her success ‘Down Under’ is hardly a surprise, not when the Halifax-based ace smashed seven world records in just over a week.

But even Cockroft admits she expected nothing like a double gold in New Zealand, admitting the past 12 months has been one non-stop high.

“What a year!” smiles Cockroft simply, asked about the last 12 month’s achievements.

“I don’t know what to say really but I broke seven records in eight days and it was all a bit mental.

“I had my last A-level exam, then I had my prom that night and then I went to Switzerland where I broke four world records there – the night after my school prom.

“Then I came back and the weekend after that I broke another three!

“Then it was all hard training up to New Zealand and I went there for the experience really. I ended up getting two gold medals – everything just worked out really well!”

“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet and it’s all still a bit surreal

“Racing just seems like a bit of fun for me and like a hobby. I’m just doing something I enjoy.”

Enjoyment is also the principal reason for another notable contribution of Cockroft’s, in working once a week on a voluntary basis for Leeds City Council’s sports development unit.

The placement acts as the perfect work experience before the Yorkshire star’s forthcoming university course with the teenager currently studying a sports diploma at Calderdale College; when she’s not burning up the track that is.

“I work down there one day a week on a Monday and it’s good, an ideal opportunity,” said Cockcroft, inset right.

“At the moment I am helping them organise the Leeds half-marathon.

“I really enjoy doing it because it’s all about sport and I enjoy everything I do down there.”

It is, though, for her achievements on the track that Cockroft is quickly becoming nationally, if not internationally recognised, the former Holy Trinity Senior School student admitting the pressure is on for gold at next year’s Paralympics, never mind the original aim of 2016.

“I thought realistically when I started racing that 2016 was going to be the year,” said Cockroft. “I thought that would be my first Games. But it’s pretty definite that I am going to 2012 because they have just confirmed that my events – the 100m and 200m – are going to be in it.

“2012 is looking really real now and my coach said he is going to take me all the way to 2020 so most of my life is going to be sorted!

“I’m on the A-funding in the Great Britain team now and that’s the highest you can go.

“That means you are expected to get gold so there’s a lot of pressure, especially as it’s going to be my first Games. But it’s good pressure, I like it and that’s what I am here for so we’ll see.”

Explaining how life as a wheelchair racer began, Cockroft recalled: “Before I went to secondary school I didn’t really do any sport but I joined a team and I got into athletics through that.

“I did the wheelchair discuss and did a competition where I got a silver medal so that was counted as pretty good. Then I went to an open day at Loughborough University I had my first go at wheelchair racing and I loved it. From there everything just went kind of crazy!”

Crazy, and within next to no time catapulted into being an international star in the world of disability athletics, Cockcroft is a regular visitor to the stage and winning a stack of prizes at the recent Leeds Sports Awards.

However, success has not come without its sacrifices, Cockroft understandably admitting that spare time is a rarity and that several former hobbies have now been placed on the back-burner.

“I don’t get much spare time really!” she laughed. “But when I do it’s nice to catch up with friends but I don’t know, I’ve given up a lot for racing really.

“I’ve given up wheelchair basketball, I used to sing, I used to play the violin so I’ve had to drop all that but if there is ever a spare minute I just like to see some friends and go back to my old life!”

But is it all worth it? You bet it is, especially if a gold medal comes along in 2012. “It’ll definitely be worth it and even if I just make the London 2012 team it would be worth it!” she added.

“I just want to be there!”

Rest assured she will be.

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