SOMETHING unusual happened to Halifax’s multiple wheelchair sprint champion Hannah Cockroft in September last year.
She lost. It was, after all, a first defeat in seven years and over 300 races.
‘Hurricane Hannah’ vowed to bounce back and did so in style in October’s World Championships with three golds.
That, though, is envisaged to be just the start for an athlete who would be disappointed with anything but another treble at this summer’s Paralympic Games.
Cockroft, 23, remains the clear leading force in the T34 classification of wheelchair racing, boasting a hugely impressive roll of honour over the last seven years.
That list of triumphs would be perfect but for that defeat to 14-year-old British rival Kare Adenegan over 400m in a race in London in September.
Cockroft, who bagged two golds at London 2012 and doubles at both the 2011 and 2013 World Championships, admitted at the time that a surprise defeat left her “shocked, upset and confused”.
The setback came one month short of her bid to conquer a third World Championship which posed the new challenge of new 400m and 800m events.
But October’s Worlds in Doha produced a familiar outcome – victory in every event entered – and now Cockroft is confident of a similar outcome at this year’s Paralympics which could see her better her haul from 2012.
Cockroft of Mount Tabor, Halifax, won both the 100m and 200m events four years ago but will compete in the 100m, 400m and 800m in Rio and said: “The aim is simple – three gold medals in Rio and I honestly will be disappointed if I get anything less.
“If I continue to train the way I am right now and perform the way I am then I definitely believe I am capable of doing so.
“It was a tough year last year. I was balancing university, training and being away from home and it was a lot to come in one year.
“I had my first loss in over 300 races and seven years and I will never let that happen again!
“It was tough and the girl who beat me was a team-mate, Kare Adenegan, the only T34 woman to ever beat me and was only 14-years-old which was a little bit embarrassing.
“But I had an off day – everyone has an off day.
“At the time, it was horrible and I was so upset but actually I’m so glad it happened then and not at the World Championships.
“I made mistakes and I learnt from them and I picked up went to Doha and did what I knew I could do best.
“Hopefully, I can go another seven or eight years, it would be nice if I could beat it again!
“I made a few mistakes in Doha but at the end of the day at a competition like that it’s the medals that count. The times that you get there don’t really matter.
“But to win three golds at Doha was fantastic and I couldn’t have planned it any better if I had tried. I’ve just got to do it again in five months’ time now.”
The road to Rio will begin when Cockroft begins her competitive season in May, but the Halifax star will not be competing at this summer’s European Championships.
Instead, it is the Swiss Grand Prix that will provide the year’s pre-Paralympics acid test.
Cockroft explained: “I have opted out of the European Championships this year because I don’t have strong European rivals.
“They are in June and I would be flying all the way to Italy to compete against two girls from Great Britain so we can kind of line up against each other on a home track and feel a lot more comfortable.
“A week before that we have the Swiss Grand Prix and the Paralympic line-up will be there for every single race.
“That is the most important race prior to the Paralympics – seeing where the other girls are at, seeing what I need to work on three months out from the Games and seeing where I’m at, how I am performing and if I am still No 1 in the world.”
It’s a ranking Cockroft and the sport has become highly familiar with, and at just 23-years-old there is little chance of Rio proving a Paralympics swan song.
“I’d like to go to Tokyo,” admitted Cockroft.
“I think it will be a fantastic Games and then we’ll just see what happens after that.
“I don’t have a diagnosis for my disability so I don’t really know how long I am going to be able to sit in the chair for. But as long as I can push I will be on the track.”