Weekend Interview: Hannah Cockroft sets sights on increasing her gold medal haul

HALIFAX Paralympic star Hannah Cockroft readily admits she had designs on setting records from an early age.

Hannah Cockroft celebrates winning the Women's 100m T34 Final at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships at London Stadium. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA

“I wanted my times to be so fast that no-one will ever beat them,” recalls the athlete who has done a pretty good job of achieving that objective.

The 25-year-old holds the Paralympic and world records for the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m in her classification with a collection of five golds at Paralympic level and double that tally in the World Championships.

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Records have indeed been smashed left, right and centre.

Great Britain's Hannah Cockroft. Picture: John Walton/PA

But Tanni-Grey Thompson’s record of 11 Paralympic golds is one that even Cockroft admits she will struggle to match, not because of time or talent but because she is running out of events.

Cockroft further added to her bulging medal haul at last year’s World Championships in London by landing a brilliant hat-trick of golds in the 100m, 400m and 800m at T34 level – a class for athletes with cerebral palsy.

The London hat-trick came in spite of the athlete battling food poisoning and it took Cockroft’s haul of World golds to 10, following doubles at both Christchurch and Lyon in 2011 and 2013 respectively, before a glorious treble in 2015 in Doha.

The Leeds City Athletics Club star also has 10 medals at European level, but she knows it is the Paralympic gongs that carry the most weight – two at London 2012 and three four years later in Rio. The former Leeds Beckett University student now has her eye on a third Games and a potential sixth and seventh gold in two years’ time at Tokyo and it is not inconceivable that Cockroft could also race at Paris 2024.

WINNER: Hannah Cockroft celebrates winning the Women's 100m T34 Final at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

And although she acknowledges that Grey-Thompson’s incredible record-breaking Paralympic gold haul is safe, she is not being holding back, despite having less events than is ideal in which to compete.

“It’s just about going for as long as I can really,” Cockroft told The Yorkshire Post.

“When I began, it was like I wanted to be unbeatable, I wanted my times to be so fast that no-one will ever beat them.

“But actually, the further you get in the sport, you realise how unrealistic that is ... so we had to scrap that one.

“A lot people kind of push me and say ‘you need to beat Tanni-Grey Thompson’s medal score’ but actually when Tanni was competing she could compete in five or six events per Games whereas on a good Games I have got three races.

“I would literally have to compete until I was about 50 to beat her medal score.

“I also lose an event for Tokyo as I will just be doing the 100m and the 800m, which I am a bit gutted about.

“I love the 400m so I would have been looking forward to that but it’s not my decision.

“But the International Paralympic Committee decide that and I guess the 100m and the 800m are the ones that are ones to do.

“It stretches me a bit, training for both and I know the organisers will be aiming to get two different gold medallists. But, obviously, I am not going to be going along with that and I just hope I can leave with both. I just want to be the best that I can be and win every race that I enter.

“I’m looking towards Tokyo, but beyond that I don’t really know how much longer I am going to continue. It’s about enjoying every race that I have and giving the best that I can. That’s all I can ask of myself.”

On the face of it, it was again business as usual for Cockroft at last year’s Worlds, once again answering every question posed to her by winning every race that she competed in.

But her hat-trick of golds came amid a background of struggles.

“I knew that London was going to be a big deal, back in that stadium and in front of a home crowd is always special,” she said.

“I just wanted to make sure that I won really and every race kind of feels like a sigh of relief now when I cross that finish line.

“It was business as usual but I got ill at the World Championships and it was a bit of a daunting prospect that I might not actually make the start line.

“After the 400m I got food poisoning and in the 800m I always just feel a bit rubbish before the event because I don’t like it and then I got absolutely full of cold for my 400m so, overall, the championships were a bit of a wash-out for me.

“You just want to be able to go into auto-pilot and do what you need to do.”

But even after overcoming food poisoning to win her latest collection of golds it is the opposition that are becoming sick of Cockroft whose principal aim for this year is to become European champion – particularly after not competing last time out.

“This year we have got the European Championships which start in August,” added Cockroft.

“So I am aiming to regain my European title as I lost that in 2016 when I didn’t go because I opted out so I could concentrate on Rio.

“Then, hopefully, next year we will have a World Championships but at the moment we have no host so that’s a big question mark at the moment. We’ll just get through this year and then find out what is happening next year.”

Reflecting on her growing collection of medals, Cockroft admitted: “It’s a big haul. But I am never satisfied and I want a bit more.

“I don’t know, I take every race as it comes and kind of move on to the next one until it’s over. I don’t really see it and look at what I’ve done and appreciate what’s gone into it.

“I love to race. It’s not nothing to do with the training, I hate training and I just want to go out and win and that’s what I see it as – I’m just focused on that really.

“When I started out, Rio was actually the aim for my first Games and I always said I would go to Tokyo and then make a decision year by year over whether I want to carry on and that is still kind of what I stick by.

“I am 25 now which everyone says is not that old but athletics-wise, I will be 28 when it comes to Tokyo so I will be 32 by the time Paris comes around. I don’t know if I still want to be doing this then!”

Indeed, it could well be that by then, Cockroft will be reporting on sporting achievements as opposed to creating them.

Cockroft continues to be interested in pursuing a career in the media when her racing days have finished with the Yorkshire star having completed a degree in media and journalism at Coventry University.

“I want to be a TV presenter,” admitted Cockroft.

“That’s still what I am interested in so I am just trying to grab the opportunities that I can with that at the moment and build as much of a network up as I can while still focusing on my athletics.

“You can’t really put a time limit on your career and it depends on a lot of things like what happens if I get injured and with my disability.

“Anything could happen with that and there are so many unknowns – so no promises on anything. Tokyo is my goal and we will see after that.”