Five-time Paralympic champion Hannah Cockroft will be watching the upcoming Olympic Games with a keen eye. This will not just be with the intention of cheering her British teammates on, but to also get an accurate idea of how the Paralympics will unfold.
In an interview with GiveMeSport Women for our Road to Tokyo series, wheelchair racer Cockroft explained how she is feeling ahead of her third Paralympic Games.
“I think my overriding feeling at the moment is just relief,” she said. “Still a little bit of worry – the Olympics still have to go well for us to go ahead, and obviously there’s a lot of time still for things to change. But I think ultimately just relief after the Games were postponed.
“I was training through lockdown, and thinking what if I’m not doing the right thing. What if this is not helping me. It was just such a different situation for everybody, and I don’t think anyone knew how best to deal with it.
“Thankfully I think we’ve dealt with it quite well, but yeah relief and obviously excitement. It’s always exciting getting to go out there, every Games is different. Tokyo is definitely going to be different. It’s going to be completely unique, but I’m so excited that I’m going to get the opportunity to be there.”
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics will indeed be different. Although the Games were pushed back by a year to lessen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the event, the global health crisis is still far from over. Tokyo 2020 will subsequently be held with a whole host of restrictive measures in place.
At the time of Cockroft’s interview, it was hoped up to 10,000 Japanese spectators would be able to attend each event at the Olympics. Shortly after exiting our Zoom chat, Tokyo 2020 organisers announced a new state of emergency in Tokyo meant there would be no fans in attendance for the Olympics, but a decision was yet to be made on the Paralympics.
“I really hope we do [have spectators], but ultimately we can’t let it affect the kind of performance that we put on,” Cockroft said. “As a Para-athlete, unfortunately we’re very used to competing in front of empty stadiums, so we can’t really let it affect us, and we’ve got to get in there and do what we do.”
The 28-year-old Cockroft made her Paralympic debut at London 2012, winning gold medals in the T34 100m and 200m in front of a raucous home crowd. She then earned three more golds at Rio 2016, triumphing in the 100m, 400m and 800m. The star subsequently has a wealth of Paralympic experience, but is aware Tokyo 2020 will not be the same as other Games.
“I’m expecting a lot of testing, a lot of COVID tests, I’ll have no nose left when I’m back,” Cockroft laughed. “I think this is gonna be a lot more strict than we’re used to, you know, no mixing between different sports, no mixing between different countries. We’ve got to book into the food hall when we want to eat, which will require a level of organisation that I know a lot of my teammates don’t have.
“Really, I have no idea what to expect, but I had no idea what to expect for London either. So, it’s kind of like going into the same thing, just go in and expect it to be different and and try and enjoy it for whatever it turns out to be, because we’re lucky that it’s going ahead. So that’s all I want to do, just want to get there and race now.”
And what of her medal ambitions? Will Cockroft be aiming for even more gold medals?
I mean, yeah. I’d like two more. I’m going to Tokyo for the 100 and the 800 metres. I’ll be happy with any medal – it’s a pandemic, everyone’s had very different preparation.
“Some have had better, some have had worse, but ultimately, I think, if you’re not going for gold, why are you going? Everyone’s got to want to win right? So, yeah, I definitely would like two more.”
Cockroft is one of the more established names set to represent Team GB at the Paralympics, featuring in a squad alongside reigning gold medallists Hollie Arnold, Jo Butterfield, Aled Davies, Sophie Hahn and Richard Whitehead.
The majority of the Para-athletics team is yet to be announced, although Cockroft is already tipping fellow wheelchair racer and world champion Sammi Kinghorn to be a star name.
“She’s a T53 wheelchair racer,” Cockroft explained. “Her first Games was in Rio, but she’s absolutely flying as well, and she’s so close to the world record. I train with her most days, and if training’s anything to go by it’s going to be a very successful Games if she gets selected.”
Although she is only 28, Cockroft will be viewed as one of the more senior members of Team GB. As the interview came to a close, she shared some words of wisdom for those set to experience a Paralympic Games for the first time.
I think just take everything in your stride. Don’t worry about it too much. Enjoy it, because I know that it’s the best thing I could have done in London, I just enjoyed every second of it.
“So, remember that you are there to do a job, but also remember it’s a massive, massive privilege to wear that vest and a very select number of people get to wear it. So, honour it, wear it with pride and enjoy the experience, because who knows what’s gonna happen for the next Paralympics – let’s hope no more pandemics!”
Cockroft spoke to GiveMeSport Women after it was announced she will be presenting BT Sport’s coverage of the 2021 FA Disability Cup live from St George’s Park on July 17th and 18th.
Supporting BT’s work with the Home Nations football associations to advance disability football, BT Sport will broadcast the 2021 FA Disability Cup. Coverage on 17 & 18 July, available for anyone to watch, will carry audio description, sign-language and sub-titles. For more info, visit: btsport.com/disabilitycup.