Paralympics 2012: Sarah Storey wins gold in women's cycling time trial

Almost 20 years ago to the day, Sarah Storey recalls, she was the "new, young" member of the British Paralympic squad who had just won her first gold medal, and was somewhat in awe of the all-conquering Tanni Grey.

On Thursday Storey – now 34, not 14, and a cyclist rather than a swimmer – could equal the mark of 11 gold medals held by Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson.

"Just to be anywhere near Tanni is incredible," said Storey after a triumph in the women's C5 road time trial at the Brands Hatch circuit, her third gold of London 2012 and her fifth in all on the bike.

There were four British time trial medals on the day: Storey's gold, silvers for Mark Colbourne in the C1 class and Karen Darke in the H1-2 handcycle event, and a bronze for David Stone in the T1-2 trike equivalent.

Storey said: "I can't believe I'm being put on the same page as her. Tanni's a good friend and an incredible athlete and such a lovely girl. Just to be even spoken about her in same breath is an incredible honour."

Grey-Thompson is not the most decorated British Paralympian – Mike Kenny, a swimmer, won 16 golds between 1976 and 1988 – but she is the mark against which all her modern equivalents seem to be measured.

Already at these Games the previously unbeatable dressage rider Lee Pearson has stumbled in his widely anticipated tilt at an 11th or 12th gold. While Storey's final event is the road race, and as such prone to more tactical vagaries and random mishaps than timed road or track events, few would bet against the Cheshire native gaining gold No11.

The 10th was secured in imperious fashion, by almost a minute and a half over the silver medallist, Poland's Anna Harkowska, in an event that lasted a shade over 20 minutes.

Storey said she was desperate for success on the road after two titles in the velodrome: "This has been where all my preparation's been done, so I really need to nail this one here today, and obviously having watched the success of the Olympic team on the road and Bradley [Wiggins] winning the time trial, and Chris Froome getting the bronze medal, I just wanted to make sure I added my name to that list of success."

She has now matched she five golds collected in the pool from 1992 to 2004 in just two Games since changing sports to combat persistent ear problems. Storey said her background made her a better all-round athlete: "The discipline swimming has given me has allowed me to train on my own for hours. That discipline of just being up early and training constantly by yourself is something you can't replace. I'm so glad I was a swimmer for as long as I was."

Such is Storey's competitive nature that her first comment after finishing was that she wanted to check her time against the men's C5 race to "see where I would have placed". The answer – not a direct equivalent as Storey's 16km race amounted to two out of three laps for the men – was that she would have been eighth, more than two minutes quicker than her British team-mate Jon-Allan Butterworth.

Poor Butterworth: winner of three silver medals on the velodrome, he was grazed and bandaged after a training crash the previous day, coming 13th out of 14 riders. The crash had an unusual cause, he said – a British tandem: "Going down one of the descents I was on the racing line and got taken out by a tandem. It knocked my handlebars and I went down pretty heavily, about 50kmh, something like that."

Butterworth diplomatically refused to name the riders involved, but only one tandem couple are racing in the time trials, Lora Turnham and her sighted pilot, Fiona Duncan. After two fourth places on the track they endured more heartbreak – the pair led on the first two laps before a mechanical problem halted them for more than a minute, pushing them down to sixth.

Colbourne, 42, who only turned to cycling after a 2009 paragliding accident broke his back, missed out on gold by just 13 seconds despite the hilly circuit not suiting his impairment. He said: "If you look at the course, with my disability – no hamstrings, no feet working, no glutes working – you put me on an 11% hill and it's like somebody takes my batteries out." He added: "My legs are not my friends at the moment."

In the handcycling, Rachel Morris could only come fifth in the H3 class, which she won in Beijing. But this was an achievement in itself given that just eight weeks ago she was struck by a car in training, suffering injuries she initially thought would force her to withdraw.

In the H1-2 equivalent there was a silver for Darke, the 41-year-old British Paralympic debutant, who decided to take up the sport after watching the Beijing Games in bed following a sea kayaking accident.

In the trike class, for those unable to balance a bike – for example because of cerebral palsy – the double Beijing gold medallist David Stone took bronze.

Britain now has six cycling gold medals and 19 medals in all. Four of the golds and a silver have come from the Storey family, after Sarah's husband Barney piloted Neil Fachie in two tandem track races. If the Storeys were a nation, they would be 24th on the overall medal table, just above South Africa.

Storey claimed ignorance of this: "We'll leave the stats to you guys and look through the newspapers when we get home."

Powered by article was written by Peter Walker at Brands Hatch, for The Guardian on Wednesday 5th September 2012 20.39 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Fighting Irish 1977

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