‘My successor Sarah Storey is an extraordinary woman’

actionwoman-2016In Rio this summer, Dame Sarah Storey’s three cycling gold medals enabled her to overtake Tanni Grey-Thompson as Britain’s most decorated female Paralympian. So was the former holder of the title upset to be usurped? Far from it; in fact, Tanni explains here why she will be voting for Dame Sarah in the BT Sports Action Woman of the Year Award 2016.

The Mixed Zone is publishing a series of articles by contributors in support of each of the 10 nominations for the prestigious annual award before the winner is announced during the Action Woman of the Year Awards Show, presented by Clare Balding, on BT Sport on Monday, December 12.

The winner, from a superlative list of sporting achievements by British female athletes during 2016, will be decided by the public. For details of how you can vote, along with the full list of nominations, CLICK HERE

Why am I voting for Sarah Storey in the BT Sports Action Woman of the Year Award? It’s a combination of her performance at the Paralympics, how she races on the road away from the big Games, and her as an individual. Sarah never just wins, she goes as far as she can and ‘buries herself’ in every race without fail. I really admire that, because there’s some races, not all, where she could perhaps hold back, but she is relentless and always wants to keep going.

I also think a lot of people don’t realise how much she puts into the sport away from the events. She goes around the country giving talks and inspiring others. She is an extraordinary woman.

She has an amazing mental strength. Remember, she started competing very young and switched disciplines from swimming to cycling, winning golds in both. Even though both sports are multi-medal events, I think we forget the mental toughness they require. There’s hours we don’t see, day-in day-out, doing the same thing.

magazine_cover_storey_v2I didn’t actually see that much of her during the Paralympics in Rio because of her hectic schedule. However, I do remember a funny moment when Jonathan Overend interviewed Sarah’s husband, Barney, and three-year-old daughter Louisa for BBC radio. Louisa was holding one of the Paralympic mascots, Tom, that Sarah had given her when she won one of her gold medals. Jonathan kept trying to ask her about her mum and she just said: “I’ve got Tom. It’s mine!” It reminded me of my daughter, Carys, who was a similar age when I was competing in Athens in 2004 – she was completely uninterested, too! We compare stories of our kids a lot. Mostly about how we drag them around the world with us. I used to leave Carys in long-jump pits to play while I trained! For Louisa, her playground was in the centre of the velodrome.

Was I thrilled to see my position as the most decorated British female Paralympian fall to Sarah in Rio? Yes, I was. I wasn’t sad at all. It’s not your record forever, even though it’s great to hold it for a few years. It might have been different if I was still competing, but I’ve been retired for a long time now. I did get quite nervous for her before the race, though, which was strange because she was so dominant. She won, and won with style as my dad used to say, and that day was about her and not me.

And she can add to her 14 Paralympic gold medals as well. She can definitely go to Tokyo in 2020. Definitely. She might be approaching 43 then, but age is only a number! Of course, competing in cycling will always be dependent on injury. But regardless of that, Sarah will always be involved in the sport whether that’s at the Paralympics, coaching or inspiring others.


This article was written by Tanni Grey-Thompson. Tanni’s latest articles.

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