Hannah Cockroft makes light of hand injury to seal T34 800m Tokyo gold
Hannah Cockroft slashed her hand on the wheel of her chair on Saturday morning. She was unable to get stitches because it was too close to her race, which took place on a slippery surface under the pouring rain. Still, no bother. Cockroft duly entered the arena of the Olympic Stadium and left the field in the T34 800m for dead, claiming her seventh Paralympic gold medal in the process, and only just missing out on her own world record. “I’m absolutely gutted,” she revealed afterwards, with a smile.
Depending on the angle you viewed the race from, it was possible to think that Cockroft was out on the track alone, so great was the distance between herself and the rest of the field. She won in a Paralympic record time, despite sodden conditions in the Olympic Stadium.
The 29-year-old clocked 1:48.99, just over a tenth of a second off her best. She was, however, a whole 11 seconds clear of Great Britain’s Kare Adenegan, famously the only racer to have beaten her in international competition, who claimed silver. Fabienne André just missed out on making it a British 1,2,3 as she finished behind the American Alexa Halko.
Cockroft described the unpleasant events that had preceded the race in the breezy manner she discusses most things, including her world-beating achievements in wheelchair racing. “I put my hand through the wheel, while the chair was moving,” she said. “I’ve never done it before – so I decided I’d try it today! Wheelchairs and rain don’t mix so I slipped off the rim and there’s not really much space to slip into so it went straight in. My hand went straight round but luckily a coach was stood with me. It’s pretty bloody but it’s fine. I’m probably going to need to strap it up. The doctor was like ‘do you want me to do something now?’ but it was literally just before call.”
She makes the tough things look easy, does Cockroft, her Games success coming after 18 months of pandemic-proscribed preparation, where “my heat chamber was a greenhouse and my garage was a gym”. But the things that look easy, like the 800m final, are the things she cannot be relaxed about. Asked at what stage she thought the race was won, she answered simply: “No stage. Until I cross the line, in my mind, Kare is always right behind me. She’s all I can hear. She’s all I think’s there. I don’t give myself the time to look around.”
She did give herself a moment to look forward, however, as many ParalympicsGB stars have done following victory or sometimes also defeat. The Paralympics is growing as an event, but disability sport more broadly lags behind it. After the mixed relay sprint team, which included Cockroft’s boyfriend Nathan Maguire, called for more para athletic events in non-disabled meetings, the newly-medalled Cockroft repeated the appeal.
“I want to see more coverage of the events we have,” she said. “In Britain we race nearly every weekend in the summer. Let’s promote it and get it out there, get people coming to watch. Let’s get disabled events into able-bodied sport, like Nathan said, not just a token wheelchair race. Let’s get an afternoon or event before the able-bodied guys.
“Let’s get Jonnie Peacock, the men’s and my 800m, let’s mix it in, because people are watching and inspired by what we do. We’ve obviously missed out on a crowd while we’re here, and that sucks because we only get a crowd every four years. We need to change that, desperately.”
On the final day of full competition at Tokyo 2020, there was great excitement on the track, though mixed success for Great Britain. Kadeena Cox failed to repeat her dual discipline success of Rio when she was outgunned in the women’s T38 400m, finishing in fourth place, a second behind the winner Lindy Ave of Germany who finished in a time of exactly one minute. In the men’s T34 800m, both Isaac Towers and Ben Rowlings made the final, but they finished seventh and eighth in a strong race.
On the field, however, there was repeat success for Welshman Aled Davies, who confidently retained the men’s F63 shot put title he won in Rio with a leading distance of 15m 33, 45 centimetres clear of silver medallist Sajad Mohammadian of Iran.
There was great excitement outside of domestic hopes, too. Italy claimed a 1,2,3 in the blue riband T63 100m sprint final, continuing the Italian summer of sporting success into the autumn. There was also delight for Costa Rica, when Sherman Guity followed up his surprise silver medal in the men’s T64 100m with an even more surprising gold in the 200m, beating Germany’s impressive champion Felix Streng into second place.