A legend in Paralympic sport, Sarah Storey writes about the competition at the Games and shares her account of what happened.
by Sarah Storey
It may seem strange, but for so many of us, we don’t remember a huge amount about the main part of our events, especially on the track because once you are in “The Zone”, you are unaware consciously of what is going on around you! Memory is largely thought to be recorded because of the emotions of a situation and so when you are fully concentrated as a performer, the actions are automatic and can be done without the complexity of emotional thought.
We all work hard to ensure our emotions don’t distract us negatively during an event and so for most athletes they remember what happened because they have watched it back on the TV afterwards.
Starting the team off on Day One, I knew there was a chance I could be the first gold medal for the team. The programme of events is something you can’t choose and so it’s purely by chance you find out when your events fall within the overall programme. In Beijing, I waited until the final day of competition to ride the Individual Pursuit, whereas in London the qualification was on that first morning. I was so excited to get underway and the thing I was most looking forward to about the Games, was getting into the start gate for that first event.
The crowd in the velodrome were breath-taking and they cheered me to the start gate and then roared for the entire 12 laps of the qualification. I remember sitting in the start gate thinking I must time the start perfectly and get out of the gate and up to speed as quickly as possible. This is the only part of the event I have memory of. I remember listening to Chris Furber count down for me, as he done 100’s of times in training, and then that first two revolutions needed to be strongest and most powerful I had done. Once the bike was up to speed I remember passing my opponent around half distance and then the next thing I remember is being roared through the last two laps of the race and thinking that I must be close to the World Record because the crowd got louder and louder!
It was an amazing feeling to see my time on the scoreboard once I finished. Over a second quicker than the time I recorded 12 months ago, at the British Track Championships, and this meant I qualified fastest for the Paralympic final.
When I returned for the final, the expectation from the crowd was at fever pitch but in the most supportive way you could imagine. It gives me goose-bumps to think about how much everyone was desperately willing me to win that first Gold Medal for the team. Again the final is a blur, but catching my opponent at around the halfway mark of the 3000m was just the best feeling. A huge mixture of relief, excitement, feeling invincible and being incredibly humbled by the generosity of the crowd is probably the best way to sum up the emotions I was going through during those laps of honour. And I certainly milked the moment for as long as possible!
Standing on the rostrum a short time later felt amazing and when 6,000 people started singing the national anthem it was the most amazing choir I have ever heard. I sang along with them, barely whispering the words of the anthem, I just couldn’t quite believe I was actually stood there with the Gold Medal hung round my neck!
Into the Unknown
Two days later was time to step into the unknown and see whether, for the first time in my career, I could win a Paralympic title in a sprint event. Whilst doing my pre warm up on the rollers at my apartment in the Village, I was so excited to watch Barney and Neil smash their own world record in the Tandem Kilometre Time Trial. Such an incredible performance and one that saw them take the top spot on the podium and it couldn’t haven’t been a more motivating sight for me, a few hours before my own event.
Stepping onto the track as last rider off in the 500m Time Trial, I knew I couldn’t get overly excited as the job was still there to be done, but the time I had to beat was one that I had been doing in training before. My own personal target was to dip inside 37 seconds, something done by only 2 other women in the world of Paracycling.
Again the start was crucial, powerful through the first two revolutions and then keep driving the bike up to speed as fast as possible. My strength is the second lap and I could hear the crowd getting louder and louder throughout the race. I was about level after the first lap, but then took a second out of the rest of the field in the closing lap and was able to fulfil that dream of not just another Gold Medal, but also a time of 36.997 seconds!
I genuinely couldn’t believe the time, I was in shock and rode round with my mouth wide open for several laps, before spotting my sister and her little boy with my Dad on the front row in the home straight. Stopping next to them for a photograph, Chris Furber kindly came over to take my helmet off and I was able to stand there and look shocked and excited all over again!
Nothing prepares you for a reception quite like the one we received from the crowd in the London Velodrome. Everyone was on their feet and getting so excited for every single rider, but to win in front of that crowd and hear them roar even more loudly, was so special and not something I imagine we will be lucky enough to experience in quite the same way every again.
Onto Brands Hatch
There was a tinge of sadness mixed with the excitement for the forthcoming Road events, when we left the velodrome after the competition ended there. However our attentions had to turn to the circuit at Brands Hatch and the second half of the cycling competition programme.
The 8km circuit, with half inside the Brands Hatch circuit and the other half using local roads, made for a fabulous venue and with some short stinging rises all around the circuit, there was plenty to help create great racing.
The Road Time Trial was held on the first morning of competition. It was a beautiful day, with a strengthening wind making some of the circuit even tougher and I was excited to get going and see how quick we could all do the two laps that made up the women’s event. After 7km, I caught my minute rider and then went on to catch another couple before coming into the home straight and finding out I was over 90 seconds ahead of my nearest rival and had secured Gold again.
The Road Time Trial was the second event [after the Individual Pursuit] in which I was defending Champion and so it was even more special to be able to defend that title in front of the incredible crowd that welcomed us all around the circuit. Standing on the rostrum at the end of the finishing straight and singing the National Anthem alongside another amazing choir of spectators, I had to pinch myself to think that so far everything had gone to plan ,with one final race to come.
The fourth and final race of my programme in London 2012 was the 64km Road Race, held the day after the Road Time Trial. I went into the race without a specific tactic but feeling confident that I could react well to moves being made by other riders in the race and know when it was right to make my decisive move. Having won races in the National Road Series from various positions throughout the year and on various types of courses, I felt strong knowing I could win a sprint if it all stayed together but that I could also get up the road and stay away alone if I needed to.
The race started with the four riders from USA taking control and alternately attacking to force the rest of the field to chase. As we approached the first corner of any significance in the race, I decided to get to the front and take the group round there at my pace and was surprised to find I had a decent gap on the exit. Putting in a few strong revs to get up the rise out of the corner, I extended the gap and it didn’t look as though anyone was going to come across to me, so I ploughed on solo and gradually built up a solid lead.
Getting tangled in the men’s race was interesting for a time, but the last couple of laps saw me back out on my own and able to cross the line with 7 minutes to spare to my chasing pack. Claiming that fourth and final Gold Medal was indescribable and there is no doubt I could not have done it without the amazing support I received from everywhere. Barney, our family, my physiologists Gary Brickley and Jamie Pringle and my coaching support at British Cycling led by Chris Furber are just the tip of an incredible group of people who have played a part in getting me to climb onto the podium four times during the Games.
Equalling the record of 11 Paralympic Gold Medals that Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson so brilliantly won during her amazing career in Athletics, seems surreal, especially when you think of the inspiration and support I receive from Tanni both in and out of the sporting arena. Tanni’s example, support and friendship has meant a lot to me over the years and I am so honoured to have my career mentioned alongside hers.
Finishing my competition campaign at Brand’s Hatch was amazing and after another amazing time listening to the crowd choir singing “God Save The Queen” with me, I managed a lap of honour up the finishing straight, to meet the supporters and then it was back to the business of dope control and getting back to the post race interviews.
I didn’t think the surprises of the week could get any better, but the team sent a GOLD London 2012 BMW to collect myself and Barney from Brand’s Hatch to go back to the Village! It was quite simply the icing on a very golden cake!
Of course the after party to these Gold Medals has been continuing for three weeks now, so I will be back soon for Part 3 of my journey through the London 2012 Games.
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