After my e-book before the summer with profiles of British female athletes competing in London, I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate those women who achieved gold medals. Of course it wasn’t just about medals this summer; all of our athletes were outstanding, and London as a whole, especially those working on the games, deserves a huge amount of credit for what was achieved. Nevertheless I thought I would start with a profile of paralympic cyclist, Sarah Storey.
Sarah Storey joined the ranks of Britain’s greatest ever Paralympians in London this summer, winning her fourth cycling gold medal of the London Games in the women’s road race in an utterly imperious ride that saw her finish more than seven minutes ahead of her closest rival.
So dominant was the 34-year-old from Cheshire in the 64km race that by the second lap of the Brands Hatch course, having left the women’s field far behind her, she caught and passed the peloton of the men’s road race, which had started two minutes earlier.
Her victory, the 11th gold of a career spanning six Paralympic Games, equals the modern-era records of wheelchair racer Tanni Grey-Thompson and swimmer Dave Roberts. But the cyclist’s tally is all the more remarkable given that she began her Paralympics career, as a 14-year-old at the Barcelona Games, as a swimmer, winning two golds and three silvers in her debut appearance in 1992. London is her second Games competing as a cyclist – she won double gold in Beijing in her track and time trial debut.
Speaking immediately after the race, Storey said she was “just so chuffed” to have matched in the road racing the two golds she won in the velodrome, after taking time trial gold with an almost equally comfortable.
Asked about equalling the records of Roberts and Grey-Thompson, Storey said: “To be even on the same page … as Tanni, but to have won 11 and made today a clean sweep for this week is just a dream come true. I can’t thank enough people. I’m so proud to be part of such an amazing team and I’m just so pleased to be finished now as well.”
Britain’s best known Paralympic athlete, Tanni Grey-Thompson, won her first Olympic medal in the Seoul Games of 1988. In Seoul, at the age of 19 – a mere four years after the start of her athletics career at the Junior National Games for Wales – Tanni took home a bronze medal in the 400m wheelchair. Tanni was born with spina bifida and has used a wheelchair since the age of seven.
Whilst Tanni has a passion for wheelchair basketball she is more widely known for her successes in wheelchair racing in which she holds a massive 16 Paralympic medals.
On top of her Paralympic success, Tanni has taken home 13 World Championship medals. She has broken World Records in the 100 metre and 800 metres and is currently the European and British Record holder for 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m. Tanni has also won the London Wheelchair Marathon on six occasions. She is without doubt one of the most successful British athletes of all time.
Her sporting prowess has also been recognised off the track. In 1992 she was selected as the Times sports woman of the year and in 2000 she was recognised as BBC sports personality of the year. She has been recognised at the Pride of Britain Awards twice, in 2001 for her outstanding sporting achievements and again in 2005 for her part in the successful London 2012 Olympics bid team. Tanni has also been selected for the Queens Honours several times, being made an MBE, OBE and Dame. In 2010 she was appointed to the House of Lords as a cross bench peer.
As a member of the House of Lords, Baroness Grey-Thompson has spoken out against the shocking measures proposed by the coalition’s much criticised Welfare Reform Bill. She has been particularly vocal about the potentially negative effect that changes to the Disability Living Allowance would bring about. She is passionately against people with disabilities becoming ‘ghettoised’.
Through her spectacular achievements Tanni Grey-Thompson acts as a guiding light in the fight against gender and disability stereotyping. Her high profile success helps to break many of the stigmas associated with disability.
Tanni retired from athletics in 2007. Today Tanni is involved in a number of charities which work to break down the barriers to children to take part in sports. She is Chair of the Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport, and was named as an International Inspiration Ambassador in 2009. She is also a coach and works as a sports commentator for the BBC.