YORKSHIRE’S Paralympic heroine Hannah Cockroft is relishing the prospect of tackling new distances at this month’s IPC World Championships, declaring: “it’s a chance to show I can do more than race in a straight line.”
Halifax-based Cockroft, who has cerebral palsy, has become the face of women’s wheelchair racing since bagging both the T34 class 100m and 200m at the London 2012 Paralympics.
At just 23 years of age, all roads lead first to Rio and then on to Tokyo 2020 but first comes this month’s World Championships in Doha where Cockroft is out to retain her mantle as world champion – with a twist.
‘Hurricane Hannah’ has taken gold in the 100m and 200m T34 events at each of the last two worlds – in Christchurch in 2011 and Lyon in 2013 – and will bid to land a hat-trick in this month’s 100m event.
Yet with organisers swapping the 200m event for a new 800m spectacle and also adding a new 400m event, the champion now faces a new challenge to display the quality of stamina as well as speed.
Add in the searing Doha heat and Cockroft is ready for her most difficult test yet and one for which she is champing at the bit.
Taking 10 minutes out of her busy schedule before jetting out to Doha, Cockroft told The Yorkshire Post: “We’ve got two new events this year because they have replaced the 200m with an 800m and they added an extra 400m earlier this year.
“It’s a great opportunity to have to go towards these championships – it’s exciting and it kind of gives me a chance to show that I can do more than put my head down and race in a straight line and I can think about what I’m doing while I’m doing it.
“It is a challenge and it’s going to be tough because the rest of the world is catching up very quickly.
“But that’s nice, it’s nice to kind of go out there and show people that there is competition now and it is going to be exciting to watch. I’m doing the 100m, the 400m and the 800m – instead of the 200m – so I guess I’m going for a hat-trick. Fingers crossed that’s the plan.
“But it seems scary; I think I am racing six days out of the 10 days of competition so I know it’s going to be really tough and something totally new to handle, though I like a challenge.”
The year as a whole has been a demanding challenge for Cockroft who admits a rest will be welcomed following a season which began in February, also in Doha.
The Yorkshirewoman concedes handling the Qatar heat will be key.
“I’ve been competing since February and I’m kind of ready to just finish off now and just have a little bit of a break,” said Cockroft.
“I’m looking forward to the end, which is maybe not the best way to look at it but it’s been a long season. But I’m feeling ready for it – I’m feeling fit and healthy – and the thing with Doha is it’s going to be so hot.
“It’s not going to be who is the fittest and healthiest and fastest, it’s going to be who is handling the heat best. I went out in February and it was just something else.
“You really can’t recreate that and it will be around 35 degrees so hot, a little hotter than it is here. New Zealand felt hot in 2013 but it won’t be a patch on Doha.”
Perhaps she will be happy to learn that four months of snow are forecast on her return to Yorkshire where the athlete will remain based between now and Rio, while she takes a gap year from her degree in journalism at Coventry University.
First stop after Doha will be mum and dad Rachel and Graham’s house in Mount Tabor but the Cockroft’s are an international family with brothers Joshua and Daniel living in Finland and Pennsylvania respectively, and long term the air miles will continue to soar.
Cockroft laughed: “I’ve recently moved back home to Halifax and it’s nice to be home. It’s nice to be back where my mum can cook my dinner and dad can wash my car!”
Cockroft, though, will remain in the fast lane, admitting even after a glut of medals there is still so much more to achieve. Assessing how long she might continue, Cockroft reasoned: “For me it’s a tough thing to call because my disability doesn’t have a diagnosis so we don’t know how things are going to impact on it, how it’s going to get worse or get better. There’s a lot of unanswered questions. My plan is to make it to Tokyo 2020 – I’d love to – see how I feel then and it depends who hosts the 2024 Games. If it’s a country I’d like to visit then maybe we can hold on a bit longer.
“Obviously the Olympics is the pinnacle of every athlete’s career but I haven’t had the chance to race at a Commonwealth Games so I’d love a chance to do that.
“There’s still everything to aim for and everything to race for. And I’m having fun with it so let’s carry it on...”