SPORTING superstar Sarah Storey has paid a golden tribute to her supporters who have helped the Disley cyclist take her place in Paralympic history.
Sarah stormed to gold in four events at this summer’s Paralympic Games in London to overtake former wheelchair racer Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson as Britain’s most decorated female Paralympian.
The 34-year-old swimmer-turned-cyclist entered the record books after victory in the road race, adding to her golds in the road time trial, and in the velodrome in the individual pursuit and 500m time trial.
Speaking on her return to the home of British Cycling, Manchester’s Velodrome, Sarah said: “We set out with a mission of four events in London, and obviously you want to win every event you enter, so to finish the Games and be able to say that’s mission accomplished is just such an honour.
“I’m so proud of the people who have supported me and believed in me, right the way back to my days as a swimmer and before that. Everyone who’s had an impact on my career owns a part of these medals, and I hope they all know who they are and that I’m grateful to every single one of them.”
Sarah began her Paralympic career as a swimmer, winning five golds, eight silvers and three bronze in the pool before switching to cycling in 2005. Her two golds in Beijing and four in London took her career medal tally to 22.
“I think every medal that I’ve ever won has had its own back story and is incredibly special, but the opportunity to compete and win a medal in a home Games, let alone four golds, is unique, and that memory will always be with us. You will never compete in front of such a partisan crowd ever again,” said Sarah, who lives in Disley with fellow gold medallist husband Barney.
“A home Games is such a privilege, and to have been able to capture a nation and to see this warm glow around the British Isles for the last six or seven weeks, has just been superb and hopefully we can build on this momentum for the future.”
Sarah’s performance in London cemented her place in the Paralympics hall of fame as Britain’s most decorated female Paralympian, surpassing Grey-Thompson’s collection of 11 golds, four silvers and one bronze.
And Sarah hopes she will do justice to the honorary title: “It’s a huge honour to be thought of on the same page as Tanni Grey-Thompson. She’s a huge inspiration to me, an incredible lady, a good friend and a mentor. She won four gold medals in my first Games in 92 and has supported me on just so many levels since then.
“She was one of the first people I spoke to after winning my fourth gold and she was so wonderful with the way she congratulated me and said that she was really proud that I had attacked the race to give my best performance.”
Looking ahead, Sarah will sit down with her team before setting out a plan for the future.
“Four years is a long time and there’s lots of stepping stones along the way,” she added.
“I don’t feel ready as an athlete to retire. I still love competition, I still love racing. I will always be an athlete and a sportsgirl at heart, so as soon as I’m not good enough to be selected then I will still be riding my bike or going for a run.
“I’m very excited to set some new goals, but at the moment it’s just about celebrating what we have, thanking as many people as possible who have supported us and just enjoying the moment.”
There was plenty more to celebrate in the Storey household as husband Barney, 35, also struck gold in the velodrome at the London Paralympics, in the time trial as the sighted tandem pilot for Neil Fachie. The pair added a silver in the sprint after being edged out by compatriots Anthony Kappes and Craig Maclean.
“It has been absolutely amazing,” said Barney. “Not only were we able to get our performances right on the day, but also the reaction of the British public has just been amazing. I don’t think anyone expected that to be as much as it was.
“It was testament to the team and British Cycling that we were able to continue that dominant force and momentum after the Olympics.”
He added: “I think it is now just a case of taking stock of everything and enjoying the moment. From a personal point of view, there’s always room for improvement when you get a silver, so that’s probably why we are looking to Rio already.”