Dame Sarah Storey | 2016 Winner

It took something extra-special to stand out in a gold-strewn 2016, but Dame Sarah Storey’s achievement of becoming our most decorated Paralympian was truly inspirational.

 

Her victory in the C5 3000m final in Rio saw her claim an astonishing 12th Paralympic gold – surpassing the mark set by Tanni Grey-Thompson and Lee Pearson. When Tanni won her 11th gold in Athens 12 years ago it appeared unlikely that anyone would ever challenge that total, let alone beat it.

But by the time Sarah had left South America, it hadn’t just been beaten. It had been smashed. Fittingly, Tanni was on hand to offer a congratulatory hug to Sarah after seeing her record beaten. And after celebrating her history-making 12th gold medal, Sarah went on to claim two more – the C5 road time-trial and the C4/C5 road race on a gloriously sunny morning in Pontal.

Her dominance on both track and road was confirmed in a final race that she grabbed by the scruff of the neck with 10km remaining. The 38-year-old Mancunian powered clear of her rivals with an acceleration burst that has become her trademark, finishing 3min 29 seconds ahead of her nearest rival.

“Once I hit that first rise I put in a bit of an attack to see what would happen,” she said in her post-race press conference.

That third moment of Rio glory was the crowning achievement of a Paralympics that had proved even more successful than the London Games four years previously, with Team GB claiming 64 golds and 147 medals.

For Sarah it reaffirmed her position as one of Great Britain’s greatest ever athletes. It also continued an Olympic dream that began as far back as 1992 in Barcelona.

Then a swimmer, Sarah’s Olympic odyssey has now continued for almost a quarter of a century. It would take a brave punter to bet against her lining up in Tokyo to add to her tally in four years’ time.

Such is the scale of her dominance in the saddle that it seems almost impossible to comprehend that she was a swimmer until 2005. Then, as a result of continual ear-infections, she switched her focus from the pool to the velodrome – a move which has proved to be a masterstroke.

Success in Beijing and London proved the perfect precursor to a Rio adventure that captured the imagination of the public and, in all likelihood, encouraged more people to get on their bike.  

With her young daughter, Louisa, watching on – or, as Sarah joked, sleeping through her races in Brazil, she has every reason to be proud of a career that is almost unparalleled in modern sport.

And in 2016, she inspired millions as she became our greatest-ever Paralympian.

 

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