Dame Sarah Storey powered to ParalympicsGB’s first gold at Tokyo 2020 – and crushed her own world record in the process.
So often the standard bearer for the team, it seemed fitting Storey got the medal count rolling as British cyclists claimed gold and two silvers at the Izu Velodrome.
It’s 29 years since Storey made her debut as a 14-year-old swimmer in Barcelona – and nearly three decades and 26 medals later, including 15 gold, she shows no signs of slowing down, in fact quite the opposite.
The C5 3000m individual pursuit was a title she won in Beijing, London and Rio and she set down a marker in qualifying to smash her own world record from five years ago.
Indeed her time of 3.27.057 time would have beaten fellow multi-sport Brit Rebecca Romero, who won the gold when this event was last contested at the Olympics in 2008.
“It’s quite overwhelming,” said Storey, who needs one more gold in Tokyo to equal the all-time British Paralympic record of swimmer Mike Kenny.
“It’s hard to put into words. I’ve won a medal at every single Games I’ve been to and this is my fourth time in a row winning the individual pursuit.
“I broke the world record in Beijing, in London, in Rio and here but I never expected to go as quick as I did. It is fantastic to see the event getting faster. I just need to keep getting faster as well.
“I knew it was in me but I just needed to get the right day and right preparation. It has been an incredibly difficult preparation because it is so different to what I am used to. I just had to call upon all of my experience and know that I was capable of staying calm under that pressure.
“I am my own biggest competitor. I never feel like I am that far ahead. My flatmates will tell you that this week, I have been like: ‘Have I got enough in the tank?’.
“I never like to assume everything is in that place. I just like to let the legs do the talking on race day.”
After setting a PB in qualifying, team-mate Crystal Lane-Wright was the best of the rest in silver but Storey – who caught and overtook her fellow Brit in the gold medal race – remains a class apart, with two road events to come next week, starting with Tuesday’s time trial.
“I think because of the year we’ve had, everything is a bonus,” said Lane-Wright.
“I’m not looking at it as a gold, silver, bronze. I think that in this current climate the power of sport is even more than medals at the moment.
“Obviously I would love to be here saying I’ve won but I’m very happy with my performance.”
Defending men’s B 4000m individual pursuit champion Stephen Bate and pilot Adam Duggleby took silver as the Netherlands’ Tristan Bangma, and pilot Patrick Bos, scorched to a new world record in qualifying and then hammered down their form in the final.
“That’s what you call a classic kicking, we did what we could but it wasn’t enough, their performance was phenomenal and sometimes you need to settle for second,” said Bate.
“Emotionally it’s disappointing but logically we need to be realistic. We gave everything we had, it just wasn’t good enough. I’m just pleased to be standing here with a medal because it could have gone a lot worse.”
Elsewhere, Neil Fachie is predicting fireworks ahead of this weekend’s men’s B 1000m time trial. He and pilot Matthew Rotherham were always using today’s 4000m as a tune-up for their main event.
They are the defending world champions in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ‘kilo’ while Fachie, the gold medallist from London 2012, is still smarting about silver in Rio.
“I’d be surprised if our event isn’t won in a world record time, that’s what we are anticipating and what we’re aiming for,” said Fachie, 37, who made his Paralympic debut in Beijing in athletics before switching to cycling.
“I’ve never been in better shape, we’ve done everything right and it’s just a waiting game – it’s frustrating because we want to show the world what we are capable of. We feed off the big game and that’s coming on Saturday.”
Image courtesy: imagecomms