Paralympian cyclist Sarah Storey is the golden girl of Cheshire
Paralympian Sarah Storey is the golden girl of Cheshire. With her amazing medal haul, surely a visit to the Palace is imminent for this cyclist? But Cheshire has many Paralympians to be proud of. Steve Gibbs saw all the action.
Now firmly established as one of the greatest British athletes of the modern era, this was Sarah Storey’s Paralympic Games. Storey increased her gold medal tally to 11, with a further four cycling successes which underlined her dominance of both velodrome androad and equalled the records of Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson and Dave Roberts.
Having become the first para-cyclist to win an able-bodied gold medal, at the 2011 World Cup in Manchester, Sarah narrowly missed out on selection for the all-conquering Olympic team. Her times, comthough, still place her among the elite of world cycling.
In setting a new world record for the Women’s Individual C5 Pursuit, her time of 3:32.70 was quicker than that which Joanna Rowsell recorded, at the same venue, in winning the Track World Cup in February. Then, for good measure, Storey won the 3km final by lapping her nearest rival before she had even reached half-distance.
A second track medal came in the Women’s 500 metre C1-3 Time Trial, and when she moved down to Brand’s Hatch, the 16km Time Trial was won with over 90 seconds to spare. Yet, she saved the best for last: not only did Storey win the 64 km Road Race by over seven minutes, but she also passed the peloton of the men’s race, which had begun two minutes earlier.
In typically modest fashion, Sarah, from Stockport, credited much of her success to husband Barney, himself a Paralympic gold medallist: ‘Barney’s at the centre of my world, his expertise in cycling is just phenomenal. He’s got an immense knowledge, and he taught me everything.’
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Her combined medal total, in cycling and swimming, now stands at 22 in an astonishing 20-year Paralympic career which also features 20 world championship titles, 21 European titles, 7 world cup titles and 72 world records.
Arise Dame Sarah?
Men’s tandem cycling
A local skirmish that became a global spectacle, the thrilling battle between visually-impaired cyclists Neil Fachie and Anthony Kappes was one of the highlights of the Paralympics.
It finished with honours even, and one gold medal apiece, and even in his own moment of glory, Altrincham’s Fachie had a thought for his friend. Fachie, with sighted pilot Barney Storey, broke his own B-class 1km Time Trial world record to take gold, but only after reigning Paralympic champion Kappes, piloted by Wilmslow’s Craig Maclean, was not allowed to finish due to two mechanical faults at the start of their race.
“It was devastating our team-mates didn’t get the ride. They would’ve pushed us hard, I’m sure,” said the gracious Fachie, who then saw Kappes exact a degree of revenge in the B-class Sprint.
Fachie broke another world record in his heat, but Kappes rose to the challenge to go 0.1second faster and qualify in first place. Both tandems cruised through their semi-finals, against Argentina and Japan, to set up a titanic head-to-head in the race for gold and silver. The build-up was cagey and at times painfully slow, but Kappes twice timed his break to perfection to win 2-0 and retain his Paralympic title.
“We blew it in the time trial. I felt bereft,” he admitted, “but I knew I’d be fine when we got back out there and it’s just great to get a gold for all that work we’ve put in.”
Libby and James Clegg: Athletics and Swimming
Even with 80,000 supporters willing one of their own to succeed, Libby Clegg was driven over the line by something far more important: the fear of being overshadowed by her younger brother.
Just minutes before Libby won her second consecutive Paralympic silver medal in the T12 100 metres – having broken the world record in nonchalant style in her heat – 18 year-old swimmer James shocked even himself by winning a bronze medal in the S12 100 metre butterfly event.
Making his Paralympic debut James qualified with a new British record time and then surged from fifth to third place in the last few metres of the final.
‘I wasn’t meant to be on the podium. It’s my first Games and I didn’t really have any expectations,’ admitted James who, like his sister, suffers from congenital eye condition Stargardt’s macular dystrophy. ‘To leave with a medal is really beyond my wildest dreams.’
Guided by her sighted partner Mikail Huggins, world champion Libby also set a new British record in the 200 metres, and admitted: “It had to be done. I couldn’t have my little brother beating me. I’m so proud of what he achieved and it definitely lifted me before my final. Two medals in one night from one family is pretty impressive.”
Rik Waddon: Cycling
Chester’s ‘flying mohican’, Rik Waddon, added a second Paralympic silver medal to his collection but it took two world records to deprive the world champion of gold. Waddon couldn’t repeat his Beijing podium finish in the 1km Time Trial, and ended up collapsing on the track in exhaustion after finishing ninth, but rediscovered his form in the C1-5 Team Sprint.
Alongside Jon-Allan Butterworth and reigning Paralympic champion Darren Kenny, GB broke the world record themselves, in 49.808 seconds, to qualify for the final, only to see China immediately go even quicker in the next heat. In the gold medal re-match, China extended their own record to beat GB by a mere 65-thousandths of a second. Such were the fine margins of success that Waddon was reduced to tears of frustration at ‘only’ taking silver.
Jenny McLoughlin: Athletics
A bronze medal very nearly slipped through the Stockport athlete’s grasp in a dramatic climax to the T37 4 x 100 metre relay. With GB leading on the third leg, McLoughlin set-off too early and almost failed to grasp the baton. Dropping briefly down to third, the Commonwealth Games silver medallist reclaimed second place from Australia only to see China emerge from nowhere to snatch silver.
She had recorded new personal bests to qualify for the finals of both individual sprints, over 100 and 200 metres, but the relay was always her best chance of a medal. Fearing an appeal that would see them disqualified for an illegal exchange, it was only after an agonising wait that McLoughlin could admit: “I went a bit too early and really thought I was out of the box. I thought I messed up, so I am so relieved.”
Niki Birrell: Sailing
Knutsford’s SCUD 18 class bronze medallist was given a particularly untimely reminder that any sailor’s greatest opponent remains the elements. A four-time World Champion, Birrell and partner Alexandra Rickman were one of the pre-regatta favourites for gold, but ended up frustrated at missing out on a chance to race for silver by a lack of wind in Portland Bay.Hot on the heels of the USA boat after 10 races, Birrell had to settle for bronze when the final day of competition was abandoned due to the benignconditions.
Gemma Prescott: Club Throw
The many diverse sporting talents of Gemma Prescott have finally found a home and earned their just reward. After burgeoning careers in wheelchair racing and swimming, Prescott turned to field events and can now boast a bronze medal in the F32 Club Throw. Seated in a motorised chair, facing away from the field, she threw the club over her head to a new European record distance of 20.50m. The Warrington athlete, who also finished 13th in the F32 Shot Put, enthused: ‘I’m absolutely delighted with a bronze medal. I’ve never been in an event like that before with such support.’
Matt Walker: Swimming
After four months of ‘hell’, Marple’s Matt Walker was able to celebrate his own personal glorious 12th in one of the most poignant moments of the Games. Walker dedicated his S7 50 metre freestyle bronze – the twelfth Paralympic medal of a wonderful career – to the memory of his father Alan, who died of cancer in June.
Propelling himself to just 0.11 seconds behind silver, and with the first five swimmers separated by less than a second in a thrilling blanket finish, a tearful Walker needlessly apologised for not winning gold. At the age of 34, however, and not yet ruling out a return to competition in 2016, the man nicknamed ‘Granddad’ was able to boast, “I’m old but I’m still up there with the young ones”.
Laurie Williams: Women’s Wheelchair Basketball
Seventh place and several poor performances may have felt like underachievement for GB, but progress is being made and in 20 year-old Laurie ‘The Whippet’ Williams they have a ferociously talented guard who will be even more influential in Rio.
Natalie Massey: Swimming
The 23 year-old made a creditable Paralympic debut in the S14 class to continue her family’s strong swimming tradition. Massey impressed in all three heats, in the 100 metre backstroke, 200 metre freestyle and 100 metre breaststroke, but failed to push for a medal.
Lora Turnham: Cycling
It was a frustrating time for the Altrincham cyclist, who came close to a medal in all four events but finished empty-handed. Fourth-place in both the 1km Time Trial and Individual Pursuit races, plus a gear failure in the 24km Time Trial which turned a seven-second lead, with just one lap remaining, into a seventh-place finish, were particularly galling.
Daniel Pepper: Swimming
The 23-year-old World Champion from Poynton set a new Paralympic record in his S14 200 metre freestyle heat, but trailed in seventh in the finals of both 200 freestyle and 100 metre breaststroke as the world records were smashed.
Richard Hennahane: Archery
The Cheshire East Council employee, ranked 16th in the world, endured a final arrow defeat in his first round Individual Compound match against Jiri Klich. Needing a 10 to win a high-quality match, Hennahane shot a 9 and admitted: “I shot really well, I shot my best but the better man won”.
Nick Beighton: Rowing
So near yet so far, fourth can be the cruellest place to finish. A Captain in the Royal Engineers, Beighton – with Double Scull partner Sam Scowen – were just 21 hundredths of a second from claiming a bronze medal in a tense photo finish.
A more glorious celebration of human endeavour has rarely been seen.
Truly this was a festival of ability, not disability, and the London 2012 Paralympic Games kept its opening ceremony’s spectacular promise to shine a light on the beautiful diversity of humanity,
Once more, Cheshire’s finest played a thrilling role in ensuring that we will never see sport in the same way again.