Cockroft hoping to create new legacy a decade after London 2012

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Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Athletics - Women's 800m - T34 Final - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - September 4, 2021. Hannah Cockroft of Britain celebrates after winning gold and setting a Paralympic Record REUTERS/Marko Djurica (Marko Djurica / reuters)
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By James Reid

Perhaps the defining image of the 2012 London Paralympics is the beaming smile and outstretched arms of Hannah Cockroft MBE.

The Halifax speedster had just announced herself, and her sport, to the world as she took gold in the T34 100m and 200m, smashing two Paralympic records as she went.

A decade on, Cockroft is still at the peak of her powers. The 29-year-old holds the world record over 100m, 200m, 400m, and 800m and has added a further five Paralympic golds to her bulging collection.

It has been a transformative decade for para sport, that has seen increasing exposure and coverage since the heady days of those warm summer evenings in London.

And now with another home Games on the horizon, Cockroft believes the para movement can no longer rest on the laurels of London and must use Birmingham 2022 to push it even further forward.

“Birmingham is a new chance to make a new legacy,” said Cockroft, who will compete at the Commonwealth Games for the first time in her career this summer and is one of more than 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.

“London 2012 was ten years ago. I visit schools now and you say ‘do you remember London 2012’ and they go ‘Miss, I was born in 2017’.

“We need to move on from that now and make a new one, so that those kids that weren’t alive in 2012 have something new to look up to and something new to aspire to be.

“We need to put it out there and hopefully off the back of these Commonwealths we’ll start getting more coverage so that people realise that we’re here, we’re not just popping up for Paralympic Games every four years. We’re in it for full-time.

“London 2012 was really a catalyst for para sport, catapulting it out there and making people pay attention to what we do. Birmingham really needs to jump on that and make the most of it and really drive it forward.”

An inspirational figure Cockroft has certainly been since becoming one of the faces of that generation-defining Games.

It is something she has seen first-hand with the emergence of 21-year-old Kare Adenegan in her own T34 classification, and the 11-time world champion still can’t quite believe people look up to a girl from Halifax.

“I obviously kick myself quite a lot that I had to inspire Kare didn’t I,” she joked.

“It’s amazing to see younger and younger kids get into our sport and being able to get into it because of what I’ve done or my fellow Paralympians have done.

“The fact I can open that door for someone just feels really special and I’m sure Birmingham will open lots more doors.

“I’m just going out and doing the thing that I love but it’s a massive privilege when people say that, to say that they watched me and that’s what made them believe they can go out and do sport.

“I grew up without anyone like that to look up to, it is a real honour to be that for people but as long as I’m enjoying it, if that can make other people come in and enjoy it as well then that’s my job done.

“I want people to believe they can do anything they want so it’s always amazing when someone new comes along and says they watched you at London 2012 even though it makes me feel really old!”

This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will comprise of over 400 athletes in total, and having secured her place on the squad, Cockroft is looking for medal success in her home country.

Cockroft has continued to blaze a trail since 2012, breaking further Paralympic records, becoming the first Paralympian to be nominated for BBC Sports Personality of the Year and even presenting TV show Countryfile.

Yet ‘The Hurricane’ has no time for looking back, and still has unfinished business.

Cockroft will compete at the Commonwealth Game for the first time and is determined to complete her extensive medal collection, while continuing to go even faster than her current four world records.

“Obviously, the target is gold, it’s always gold for me,” she added.

“This one will mean so, so much if I can get it because I can say I’ve got all four golds, I’ve represented every team that I possibly can, and I’ve gone out there and I’ve done it. If I could do it, it would be amazing.

“I don’t really look at it in terms of it’s a new world record, it’s just a personal best. Luckily for me I’m in a position where every personal best normally is a world record.

“I’m still getting quicker and I think when you’re putting the amount of time and the amount of effort into training, they’re the results you want to see.”

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