I had to travel four hours to train dur­ing lock­down

Cock­roft left frus­trated af­ter lo­cal track closed in lock­down Wheel­chair racer to re­turn at the Bri­tish Cham­pi­onships

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Fiona To­mas

Han­nah Cock­roft, the Bri­tish five­time Par­a­lympic cham­pion, has voiced her frus­tra­tion at the lo­gis­ti­cal headache she faced dur­ing lock­down ahead of her re­turn to com­pet­i­tive racing next month.

The 28-year-old is due to com­pete at the Bri­tish Cham­pi­onships in Manch­ester on Sept 4, her first high-pro­file race since she sealed her 11th world ti­tle in Dubai last Novem­ber.

The world’s fastest fe­male wheel­chair sprinter in 2019 en­dured weekly four-hour round trips for one-hour train­ing ses­sions at Lough­bor­ough’s high-per­for­mance cen­tre while her lo­cal track in Cheshire was closed. When she turned up af­ter it re­opened, she was left qui­etly stunned.

“When I got there [to the track], I said, ‘I’m hon­oured that I’m go­ing to be the first per­son on it’,” said Cock­roft, who was due to start the de­fence of her three Par­a­lympic ti­tles in Tokyo this week.

“They said, ‘Oh, there’s been peo­ple on it through­out the whole of lock­down, they’ve been jump­ing the gate. You could have done it.’ I said, ‘Not in a wheel­chair, I couldn’t. You didn’t re­ally think about that, did you?’

“Things like that have been frus­trat­ing. If I could have done that, why didn’t they just open it for me? That would have been much sim­pler. You see your ri­vals, you see your com­peti­tors, who are back on their lo­cal tracks and you’re think­ing, ‘I’m still driv­ing 100 miles to ac­cess one’.”

The eas­ing of coronaviru­s restric­tions and in­tro­duc­tion of so­cial dis­tanc­ing mea­sures has im­pacted many of Bri­tain’s top para ath­letes, an is­sue that Emma Wiggs, the Bri­tish Par­a­lympic cham­pion ca­noeist, and Eng­land deaf footballer Claire Stan­cliffe have been vocal about in re­cent months.

Cock­roft had to prac­tise on a pri­vate road dur­ing the pan­demic, the on­go­ing un­cer­tainty of which poses ad­di­tional con­cerns for those tar­get­ing the de­layed Par­a­lympics next year.

“If coronaviru­s is not un­der con­trol, it’s go­ing to be re­ally dif­fi­cult to put us in that [Par­a­lympic] vil­lage and ask us all to push our bod­ies to the ab­so­lute lim­its, which would put us in more dan­ger,” Cock­roft said. She will re­sist pulling out of the re­ar­ranged Games un­til the last minute – “Get­ting on the plane and I wasn’t com­fort­able, that would be the day I de­cide.”

“I don’t think I have any un­der­ly­ing health issues, so I have man­aged to carry on as nor­mal. [But] if you are hav­ing to ease off train­ing so you aren’t get­ting ill, you won’t go to the Games at your ab­so­lute best,” she added.

The Halifax ath­lete went sub-17 sec­onds and set a world record time in the T34 100m in Dubai – a bar­rier she spent seven years try­ing to break – and months ear­lier had shat­tered her own 400m world record at a meet in Switzer­land. Af­ter a fal­low year in 2018, the pan­demic has brought re­newed self-doubt.

“Sud­denly that rou­tine and that rhythm was taken away from me – and from every­one,” Cock­roft said. “I do keep think­ing, ‘What if I can’t find it again?’”

She will aim to quash that nig­gling thought in Manch­ester, where four stand-alone para events – two wheel­chair and two am­bu­lant track events – will make their de­but at the Bri­tish Cham­pi­onships.

“To have wheel­chair racing put on for the first time at a Bri­tish cham­pi­onships is mas­sive,” said Cock­roft, who will com­pete in the women’s 400m. “If we can do it this year, then hope­fully it’s a sign of good things to come.”

With com­pe­ti­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties in 2020 re­stricted by the pan­demic, a record 29 para ath­letes are ex­pected at the event. Does the co­in­ci­dence per­haps lend it­self to the idea of one day stag­ing a cham­pi­onship ex­clu­sively for para ath­letes?

“It’s def­i­nitely some­thing that I would like Bri­tish Ath­let­ics to look into,” Cock­roft said.

Race restric­tions: Han­nah Cock­roft had to prac­tise on a pri­vate road dur­ing the pan­demic while her lo­cal track in Cheshire was closed

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