Yorkshire duo Worlds apart but share quest for medals

TWO Yorkshire athletes at opposite ends of the age spectrum but with relatively little major competition experience begin their bid for World Championships gold this weekend as the countdown to the London 2012 Paralympics gathers pace.

Halifax teenager Hannah Cockroft is targeting gold medal success in her first senior international meet this weekend, the International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships in New Zealand.

And Wakefield shot-putter Robin Womack, 39, is bidding to hit the medal trail ahead of his home Paralympics after missing out on the Beijing Games three years ago.

Eighteen-year-old Leeds Athletics Club wheelchair sprinter Cockroft will compete in the T34 100m and 200m events in Christchurch, having topped the 2010 world rankings in her classifications.

The Calderdale College pupil may be a novice in international sprinting terms, but after enjoying double London mini-Marathon success and having set nine world records in her fledgling career to date – Cockroft appears destined for greatness.

And the teenager, who is coached by Paralympic head coach Peter Eriksson, is desperate to test herself against the world's best as she begins her London 2012 countdown.

"It would be so amazing if I could win a gold medal – it's certainly what my target is for these championships," said Cockroft.

"This is my first major international competition – I have never raced against the people in my events before so it will be a really good experience for me ahead of London 2012.

"This is also the last major international event ahead of London and I know if I do well, then I will have taken a giant step towards the Paralympics next year.

"Athletes and races in my classification are few and far between – there are only three T34s in Britain, so this is an important opportunity for me."

Cockroft would usually train on her own in Halifax but has revelled in the opportunity to prepare and compete alongside fellow British sprinters at a holding-camp in Auckland, prior to the World Championships.

She said: "Preparing and training alongside the other British athletes has definitely helped me. It is nice to have people pushing you on the track and of course trying to beat your team-mates in training.

"There is a really good atmosphere in the squad and when someone is down we all take it in turns to pick each other up.

"The warm-weather camp has gone well and they are a great part of my preparation for major championships because they give you that extra edge to go out and win medals."

Womack, meanwhile, has vowed to use his Beijing heartache as a catalyst for World Championship gold in New Zealand.

Former Kettlethorpe High School pupil Womack missed out on selection for the 2008 Paralympics after failing to throw the A standard of 10.60m in the build-up to the Games and was subsequently left out of the British squad.

But rather then feeling sorry for himself, Womack has since gone from strength-to-strength, forcing his way back into the Aviva GB & NI team and registering a personal best throw of 10.87m.

And Womack, who turns 40 in May, insists he is ready to underline his quality by playing a starring role when the action gets underway at the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium in Christchurch this weekend.

"Missing Beijing hurt, but it has made me very determined to prove I am a top-class athlete," said Womack, who has only been in the sport for five years.

"It has spurred me on and will continue to do so at the worlds. The bottom line is I didn't get the qualifying standard and that's the rule.

"But I am a different athlete now, I've changed gym, I don't drink, I don't eat white bread and I don't have any caffeine.

"I train out of my wheelchair as much as possible, and I am strong and flexible so bring it on," he said.

"I've got three throws when I get out there and I don't intend to go home disappointed. My PB is 10.87 but I am aiming to better that to around 11.50 and that should challenge for a medal," he added.

Aviva has been supporting British athletes since 1999. To find out more about Aviva's athletics sponsorship, go to aviva.co.uk/athletics