Countdown to Rio: Cockroft pushes harder and further than ever in bid for gold
Hannah Cockroft admits she has loved every minute of the celebrity lifestyle that has come in the wake of her two track gold medals at the London 2012 Paralympics.
She’s been seen at awards ceremonies, taken part in fashion shoots, and appeared on television programmes such as Countryfile, Celebrity Mastermind and 8 out of 10 Cats.
But none of that means she has taken it easy in training.
In fact, she says, she has pushed herself even harder than in the lead-up to London 2012, her debut games at the age of 20, which came only five years after being introduced to wheelchair racing by Dr Ian Thompson, husband of Paralympic legend Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson.
“It has been completely different,” she told Disability News Service (DNS) earlier this summer. “A long session prior to London was six miles; a short session now is 10 miles. My mileage has gone through the roof.
“I have definitely pushed myself this year harder than I ever have.”
Partly this is because she knows the competition is edging closer to the previously unbeatable Cockroft.
One of those competitors is 15-year-old Kare Adenegan, who watched Cockroft race four years ago in London and made headlines last September after becoming the first athlete to beat her in her senior career.
“I had the shock defeat last year, the first ever loss of a race I guess and that really drove me to be, like, ‘The world is catching up, I need to go quicker,’” she says.
“So I’m definitely working harder this year in every department: lifting heavier, pushing further, pushing stronger.”
In Rio, she has three potential gold medals to target, but whereas in London she had the 100 metres and 200 metres, this time there are the 100, the 400 and the 800 metres.
And whereas she believes she is still unbeatable over 100 metres, she is not so sure that will apply over the longer distances.
“With the 100 I feel confident,” she says. “No-one has touched me ever in the 100, it’s my event, I’m a sprinter.
“The 400? Still fairly confident. If I am strong enough and I’m as fast as I feel I am right now, it should be good. The 800, I am not confident at all.”
But she adds: “I don’t see any point in going to a games and not expecting the best of yourself. If I go into a race expecting a silver that’s probably what I’m going to get.
“The 800 though is not about who’s strongest, it’s not about who’s fastest, it’s about who’s cleverest, who knows their competition the best, who’s the best tactical racer on the day.
“I am still learning it, I haven’t got that much experience in the 800 and it’s going to be a challenge.
“So I truly believe if I get everything right I can win three gold medals, but we will see what the other girls bring.”
Looking back at the last four years, Cockroft admits now that she tried to do too much.
She was enjoying the celebrity red carpet, she moved away from home for the first time, and she went to university.
“I tried to do a lot of things, which I kind of feel was the wrong decision now, but I tried it,” she says. “Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.
“To go full-time at university and move so far from home, from my support network, that was tough.
“I was driving 40 miles a day to get to training and back, I was in lectures for the full nine-to-five and then trying to fit two sessions in around it, and obviously I was living on my own for the first time, so learning to use a washing machine, and learning to cook.
“I really washed myself out, I really drained myself, and it was tough.”
She stepped back from all those commitments by taking a gap year from university this year, having already gone part-time after her first year at university.
Cockroft has been one of the more outspoken Paralympians since London 2012, and DNS has already reported her concerns at an imminent reassessment of her eligibility for disability benefits.
Like many other Paralympians, she uses her disability living allowance (DLA) to lease a Motability vehicle.
But DNS reported last month how some Paralympians who had been claiming DLA have already lost their Motability cars after being reassessed for personal independence payment (PIP).
Cockroft says: “I haven’t yet been hit by PIP, I haven’t been called up for my assessment, but honestly, it scares me.
“If I don’t have my car I will lose everything, I will lose my independence.”
She also expressed her concern for the many disabled people who have already lost their Motability vehicles as a result of being reassessed, after DNS told her that Motability expected 35,000 of its customers to have to hand back their keys in 2016.
Cockroft, who is now back living with her parents in Yorkshire, adds: “I know people will say, ‘Oh, you can afford a car, you can afford this, you can afford that,’ but the truth of the matter is I am a Paralympian so I don’t actually make enough money to even move out of my parents’ house. I can’t live without my car.”
2 September 2016
Countdown to Rio: Peacock ready to defend his crown
He was one of the biggest British names at the London 2012 Paralympics.
There were wheelchair-racers Hannah Cockroft and David Weir, swimmer Ellie Simmonds… and T44 sprinter Jonnie Peacock.
Peacock’s T44 final in London was one of the sporting highlights of the 2012 games, pitting him against the USA’s Richard Browne and the Blade Runner, South African Oscar Pistorius, who at the time was the reigning Paralympic champion and had just become the first double amputee to run in the Olympics.
Despite that competition, Peacock won gold in a new Paralympic record of 10.90 seconds.
He went on to be crowned world champion in 2013, and has since twice been European champion, but had an injury-plagued year in 2015.
But Peacock believes he is now running faster than ever – thanks in part to returning to his former coach, the hugely-experienced American Dan Pfaff, in January – and he ran his quickest legal time since 2013 at the European Championships in June, when he took gold.
He also says he is getting faster all the time, but he may need to if he wants to defend his Paralympic title successfully in Rio.
After a spell of competing four weekends in a row – and moving house as well – during the summer, he returned to training last month.
“I’m happy with how it’s progressing and it seems that every week I’m getting faster,” he tells Disability News Service (DNS), “so now I’ve got another three weeks to get even faster.”
The T44 100 metres “is not in the same place that it was four years ago,” he says, “it’s moved on dramatically”.
In 2012, says Peacock, he was one of only two people who ran under 11 seconds, but this year there have been five or six sprinters who have broken the 11 second barrier, and three have broken 10.75 seconds since London, which is faster than his personal best of 10.84.
It is going to be “an intense race” in Rio, he says. “Very competitive.”
The favourite is American Jarryd Wallace, who narrowly beat Peacock at the Anniversary Games in London’s Olympic Stadium in July.
Pistorius, of course, will not be in Rio for a rematch, and Peacock dampens any discussion of his former rival, who is now a convicted murderer after killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013.
He believes the biggest name missing from Rio is not Pistorius, but Richard Browne, who took the silver medal in the 100 metres in London.
He adds: “I will be completely honest with you. I think if [Pistorius] was still racing, I don’t think he’d be doing the 100 metres in Rio.”
He believes the South African would no longer be capable of challenging for medals in the 100 metres.
“Oscar is a 400 metres runner, he always has been; that was his best event,” he says. “That’s what he went to the Olympics for.”
Talking to DNS before London 2012, Peacock said he wanted to be able to “walk away and know that I couldn’t have done better. Fourth, last or first, I will be happy.”
He says that nothing has changed. “You can only do your best and you can only hope that your best is good enough to win.
“There’s nothing more frustrating than losing a race and knowing that you made a vital mistake and that you could have rectified it.
“When you’ve run a clean race and you’ve run a fast race, and that’s all you had and somebody beats you, you’ve got to give it to them, they were the best athlete on the day, that’s sport…”
As befits his position as one of the stars and top-earners of the ParalympicsGB team, Peacock is well-coached in avoiding controversy.
The empty seats during the Olympics were “a disappointment”, he says, but he still believes there will be good crowds for the Paralympics.
It is not his job to worry about ticket sales, he says. “I’m going out there to try and focus on my race and try and do what I can to win it.”
He is also careful to avoid saying anything controversial about the funding crisis around the Rio Paralympics that was emerging when we spoke last month.
He tells DNS: “I don’t know enough about the situation to be honest. If it is true then it’s very sad and I sincerely hope that something is done, as it’s my dream to compete in Rio and it would hurt if that dream was taken away from me.
“For me and my race, it won’t affect me because I know my main rivals will be there whatever happens, and that’s what I’ve got to focus on now.”
In contrast to David Weir – the wheelchair-racer who Peacock says has become “a huge role model” because of his power and the way he “pushes himself beyond the limit” – Peacock is unconcerned by the failure of the International Paralympic Committee to store urine and blood sample from medallists in London and Beijing, so they can be retested to take advantage of advances in technology.
“This is the absolute first I have heard of this,” he tells me. “For me, it’s how you progress from here. It’s how you learn from these mistakes.
“As long as they have learned from it and they improve, what’s done is done, as long as they improve and get better.”
2 September 2016
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com