Sarah Storey one year to go


As a busy day of media related activity draws to a close it is an interesting time to reflect on the milestone we have reached and the other news that has been part of today's countdown.


Sarah Storey One Year to Go


On 29th August 2012 I will hopefully be watching the Opening Ceremony of the Games from the apartment I hope to occupy in the Paralympic Village, should I be successful in being selected for my 6th Paralympic Games. Nothing is a certainty and with 6 months of qualification still to go with Para-Cycling, Great Britain's cycling team has no guarantee of qualifying all the places they need to take everyone who could win a medal. It's not an unusual situation to be in as a cycling team and the Olympic squad face a similar selection dilemma with the "one athlete" rule in the individual events.


Being a part of arguably the world's most difficult team to get selected for, is part of the motivation for many and for me it certainly drives me on through days like today when I felt as though I could have been doing some British summer "acclimatisation training"!  In howling wind, heavy rain and temperatures that struggled to get into double figures, I did a familiar training ride, whilst pondering the excitement that comes our way over the next 12 months.


Sarah Storey crosses the finish line of the Olympic velodrome


As athletes, once we get inside the athlete bubble of Village, Food Hall and Games transport, we could quite literally be anywhere in the world. However in London 2012, everything will be a lot more familiar; the venue will be one we have almost all visited and the crowds will most certainly be letting us know that we are in the UK and at a home Games.


For much of today the questions about the "year to go" marker have centred around whether or not we are ready for the Games, whether or not it feels closer and whether or not we feel confident of selection or medals. It's difficult to explain how far away the actual racing is in terms of time for an athlete and whilst time is ticking away and there is only a year to go, so much has the potential to change and there is still more than enough time for even the most seasoned performers to be overtaken by a precocious athlete, on a sudden upward spiral of improvement. In fact, my own inclusion in my first Games in Barcelona 1992, was a relatively last minute decision and I went on to become the youngest double gold medallist for Great Britain at the age of 14. It seems appropriate that another swimmer, Ellie Simmonds, should go on to better that when she won double gold in the pool in Beijing in 2008.


Another question from today had been quite appropriate given the coincidence that Oscar Pistorius was also competing in the semi-final of the 400m at the able-bodied World Athletics Championships. Once you are at the top, what do you do to stay there?


Oscar is perhaps the highest profile example of what many Paralympians and potential Paralympians are doing up and down the country and all over the world. In order to stay at the top of your game you race as fast as you can, as often as you can. Unlike Oscar, most athletes with a disability are racing in county, regional and national events against able-bodied competitors. In cycling there are far fewer races for people with disabilities, than there are for able-bodied competitors, so it makes sense to race in their field to get more race opportunities.


The story about Oscar Pistorius has become a two-fold discussion. On the one hand people are talking about technology and on the other they are talking about whether or not it is "right". From growing up in sport we have all been taught that if we become the best at something then we will be selected. Looking through the results, there were no other South African representatives in the men's 400m and Oscar finished 14th from 40 starters in the heats and dropped to 22nd from 24 semi-finallists. If he is the fastest in South Africa, he is going to get selected and like so many other disabled competitors around the world, he is likely to be racing the able-bodied events that get him selected because it is the best way to race more often.


Much of the criticism around disabled competitors using able-bodied competitions has been centred around the worry that the more severely disabled athletes who are not fast enough to enter both will be forgotten about. It is of course the duty of anyone who represents Paralympic sport, at any event, to be clear they are representing the talent across all disability groups. However it also important to note that whilst the more severely disabled competitors may not become able-bodied national champions, they will still be striving to compete in as many events as they are fast enough for and it is not unusual to see an athlete with a more severe disability, quietly getting on with the job of becoming a better athlete, but still competing inside an able-bodied field.


The discussion around Oscar's inclusion in the South African team and whether or not it is "right" seems all a bit too late in the day, since both Natalie de Toit, also South African and Natalya Partyka from Poland, both took part in both Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games. Indeed Ireland's Jason Smyth, a visually impaired runner, was also at the World Championships, finishing 36th out of 56 competitors in the heats of the men's 100m.


Sarah Storey inside the Olympic velodrome


Perhaps people are afraid that the media attention the "Blade Runner" generates is disproportionate to that of the other people who have made the cross over at international level, but ultimately no one can control which stories do or don't explode within the media. It is possible to see hysteria following various different athletes between now and London 2012. The media love to have their "Face of the Games" and this can change from newspapers, to television and sport to sport, none of us really have any control over whether or not our achievements are also going to be accompanied with additional "fame".


Ultimately we all have to concentrate on what the Games is all about, being the best and most elite athlete we can be. Competitors at the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year will have a few things in common, not least the same venues, the same kit in the case of most nations and the same ambitions. Above all this and most importantly, Olympians and Paralympians will all be elite athletes striving to be the best they can be. Many of those elite Paralympic athletes will also have used able-bodied events at which to prepare to be the very best they can be at the Paralympic Games, and there may well be a very small number who have also competed in the Olympic Games on their way to the Paralympic Games. This happy situation is also just another example of a Paralympic athlete using able-bodied competition to be the best they can be.


Neither is more or less important than the other, it's quite simply about being the best you can be, whether that best wins you a medal or not. As athlete's we have passed this milestone now, it's less than one year to go and like it always has been, the preparation and training is about leaving no stone unturned in the search for your best performance.


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