Recently turned 14-time world champion on competing in front of 50,000 people but that para-sport recognition has a long way to go
Hannah Cockroft returns to the stadium that helped change her life.
Off the back of winning a staggering 13th and 14th world title at last week’s World Para Championships in Paris, Cockroft turns her attention to winning a testy 800m at the London Stadium that includes Sammi Kinghorn, Eden Rainbow-Cooper and Shauna Bocquet to name just a few.
The 30-year-old is keen to stress that although London 2012 did a lot for para-sport, a return to the arena which did so much for her both on and off the track is also an opportunity to help reshape the conversation.
If all 50,000 people watch her 800m race, then it will be the second biggest one-off crowd Cockroft has competed for after the 80,000 that saw her create history London 2012.
AW caught up with Cockroft at the press conference before the London Diamond League.
This stadium helped put you on the map. What does it mean to race in front of potentially 50,000 people?
I’m kind of scared now! If all 50,000 people turn up to watch us before the official start of the Diamond League it will remind me why I do the sport. Sometimes you line-up in front of an empty stadium, you sit and think ‘who is watching and what is the point?’
But knowing that tomorrow (July 23) we have the opportunity to reach so many new people and fans, who have potentially never seen our sport, is exciting.
We all know how well London 2012 did in putting para-sport on the map. How do you see the landscape now, 12 years on?
In 2012 we had wall-to-wall coverage on Channel 4 and that was incredible. That was my first Paralympic Games and I guess I had a blurred account of what was offered to para-sport. Then 2013 and 2014 kind of followed the same game and since then it got less and less. We then got moved to the secondary channel and then to Youtube [for the recent World Para Championships].
Sport is about being able to switch on the TV and whether you know that sport is on or not, people flick channels until they see something. They might watch one race or interview and be hooked. Getting our races at something like the Diamond League is the first big step.
Next year for the Paris Paralympics I hope we can get that wall-to-wall coverage again and I hope it will show the hunger and appetite for it. Let’s not wait ten years.
There could be loads of kids tomorrow in the stadium who will want to be you in LA 2028 or Brisbane 2032. How does that make you feel?
That’s the whole point of being an athlete. You go out there to do something good for yourself. I didn’t find wheelchair racing until I was 15 years old and I wasn’t really involve in sport growing up. I go to schools now and meet kids who are being told that they can’t do PE. I feel we should be so far beyond that point now. The difficulty is that para-sport is still not mainstream and it’s hard to access.
It’s tough to have a hero or idol in para-sport as it’s not put out there enough. I hope that tomorrow there will be kids, who have a disability themselves and go away and think, that looks cool. Or they know someone who has a disability and let’s look at it on the highlights. We need to find more of that inspiration.
When you think about your journey in the sport since London 2012, how do you reflect on that?
If you told me all those years ago this is where I’d be, I don’t know if I would have believed you. Going into my first world championships in 2011 [Christchurch], the plan was never to be a world or then Paralympic champion. I just enjoyed sport. It just shows how far passion can get you. If you love what you do then it can take you all the way.
Whatever happens tomorrow, I will love being in a difficult race amongst a good mix of girls and in front of 50,000 people.
And 14 world titles? That’s quite a number now.
Yeah, it’s good! Chantal Petitclerc has got 14 Paralympic titles though so I’ve still got a long way to go and work to do because I’m still not the best.
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