Sarah Storey 'has carried on being the best she can' - Tanni Grey-Thompson

3 months ago 18
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Venue: Tokyo, Japan Dates: 24 August-5 September Time in Tokyo: BST +8
Coverage: Follow on Radio 5 Live and on the BBC Sport website

Baroness Grey-Thompson, who won 11 Paralympic gold medals for Great Britain and competed at every summer Games from 1988 to 2004, is part of the BBC Radio 5 Live team in Japan. Here, she talks about meeting Sarah Storey - who has broken the record for most Paralympic gold medals by a British athlete - for the first time nearly 30 years ago.

I first met the then Sarah Bailey back in September 1992, sitting outside our accommodation block in the Paralympic village in Barcelona. I think we were going to be doing something for Blue Peter.

At the age of 23 to her 14 I remember thinking that she looked really young. I now look back at the photos of that time and realise just how young she was.

She was about halfway through her debut Paralympics, where she won six medals, including two golds.

I remember thinking back to my first Games at 19 and not feeling half as prepared as she looked. She just seemed content with herself and very composed.

After Atlanta four years later, where she won another three golds, we spent some time together visiting schools in the North West and it felt the world was her oyster.

Sarah Bailey - as she then was - pictured with members of the Great Britain squad at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta, where. aged 18, she won three gold medals in swimmingSarah Bailey - as she then was - pictured with members of the Great Britain squad at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta, where, aged 18, she won three gold medals in swimming

Fast forward another few cycles and it appears that her swimming career was just about prepping her for her cycling career, which started in 2005.

There is part of me that wishes she had found cycling four years earlier, but sometimes you have to let things flow naturally. Meeting Barney, a pilot on the cycling team who later became her husband, meant that when she made the decision to switch she had immediate access to someone who knew the sport at the highest level.

The main thing that I admire about her is that she works really hard. It is not enough to win gold and there are many ways that she could win a race, and sometimes with less energy expended, but every time she competes she wants to be the best she can be.

That focus and determination I saw in her at 14 is still there.

Racing is the nice part to an extent, but making yourself go out and do all the really hard miles in the winter is what makes a champion. You never know how long you might have in elite sport so she makes the most of what she has.

I have always seen her be respectful of fellow athletes but it feels at times that she also competes against herself and she is a tough person to live up to.

She is one of the British athletes of whom we hang gold medals around the neck before they compete, but she still has to put in good performances.

The lack of crowds in Tokyo has been tough for all competitors, but for someone like Sarah, who has given so much to the sport, it does seem somewhat unfair that she cannot share this historic moment with those closest to her who have supported her since her earliest days in sport.

I am used to seeing her family in a big group at track events. Her parents have been to every Games up to this one and I know she misses them - I do too.

I miss the 'Go Bails' flag that they used to have - 'Go Storey' doesn't have the same ring to it!

I also remember first seeing the knitted dolls that her parents had of her and Barney a long time ago and they have now added to it with their children - Louisa and Charlie - and their cat. Apparently they are sitting on Sarah's bed so she can have her family close.

There is so much made of elite athletes becoming mums, but so many people do not know the choices and plans that need to be made so this can happen.

I remember talking to Sarah about my own chaotic experience of motherhood. It is a tough decision and all the skills you have learned in sport about negotiating, planning and logistics just get honed when it happens.

 Sarah Storey is top with 17, followed by Mike Kenny on 16, Lee Pearson on 15 and Tanni Grey-Thompson and David Roberts, who both have 11Sarah Storey and Lee Pearson both added three gold medals to their tallies in Tokyo

It makes you realise that you are privileged and if you are going to be both an athlete and a mum, then you just have to make both work.

I was privileged to be at the velodrome in Rio when she won her 12th gold, which beat my record.

There wasn't much that needed to be said. I was really proud that she had done it. Records are a moment in time and you are lucky if you hold them. To pass it on to someone I respect is a bonus. It was never a case of 'if' but 'when'.

Although Sarah and I obviously prefer individual sports, it would have been fun to do something with her where our careers overlapped.

There were many people who wanted her to try athletics but I think it had the same lack of appeal as me doing swimming.

Most of us are only good at one sport - I was only good at wheelchair racing - but there are probably three or four sports she could have transferred into and been good at them.

I imagine Louisa and Charlie are fairly swift on their bikes so they might give me a run for my money if I was to race them.

If I were to sum up her career I think she has been an amazing cyclist who happened to do swimming for a bit. More power to her just staying in love with the sport and her carrying on being the best she can.

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