Sports Personality of the Year: A supermarket hush tells its own Storey

Robin Scott-Elliot meets record-equalling Paralympian Sarah Storey who still cannot quite believe the public response her gold medals evoke

Barney Storey leans back on the sofa and laughs. “She’s oblivious to it,” he says and unleashes a grin at his wife, sitting alongside him in their room in a quiet London hotel.

Days earlier the two had been shopping in a supermarket near their home in Cheshire and, as they pushed their trolley down the aisles, they were accompanied by an unnatural hush. It was down to Barney, winner of a Paralympic gold and silver in London as a tandem pilot, to explain to Sarah why: their fellow shoppers were captivated by the sight of Britain’s most decorated Paralympian, one of the dozen chosen for the BBC’s best-ever Sports Personality shortlist. “Eventually,” says Barney, “someone said, ‘Well done on your medals’.”

“We get moved to better tables in restaurants,” adds Sarah and shakes her head at the mystery of it all. Life has changed for the Storeys in 2012, and will do so even more in 2013. There’s the sporting success, their part in Britain’s summer of sporting love, and then there’s impending parenthood. Their first child is due in June.

“We always knew there would be time to have a baby after London if I got pregnant straight away, so we  feel very lucky that has happened,” says Sarah.

There is a post-Games look shared by Britain’s successful Olympians and Paralympians: a sort of bemusement, a puzzled smile. It is not at what they achieved. Many of those who excelled expected it – high expectations are part of the reason for their success – but none seems to have properly understood how, for a golden month, their feats gripped the country.

“The thing we didn’t realise is how the velodrome noise, the stadium noise, the swimming-pool atmosphere went together; you don’t appreciate that as one big thing,” suggests Sarah. “You know what’s happening in your little world. While they were cheering for me in the velodrome, they were cheering for Dave Weir in the stadium and if you added it all together, the atmosphere across everything, that’s one thing that we will never understand. Even though our apartment looked over the park and we saw this sea of people daily, I don’t think the enormity of what was happening really registered.”

Weir and Storey each claimed four golds; with Ellie Simmonds joining them on the BBC shortlist, it represents unparalleled recognition for the Paralympics. Storey, a veteran of six Games, happily accepts the wonder of it all but also wonders what the lasting effect will be once the awards have been handed out and the calendar has ticked over to 2013.

“In the past you would have had to explain what the medals were for but now people have an experience to tell you about and that is the most unbelievable part,” she says of being a 2012 Paralympian. “Within the UK it was incredible. The impact internationally has been less. The fact that the US didn’t show any live coverage is significant. We are fortunate in this country and it was exactly the right time for Paralympic sport to come to the UK. I read an article by Tanni [Grey-Thompson] saying we all got excited because during the Paralympics people with disabilities had better treatment, there was generally a bit more respect shown towards them but gradually…”

She pauses for a second, gathers her thoughts. “There is a similarity to cyclists. We had the same response, we had a bit more respect on the roads, drivers were a bit more courteous, but as the distance from the Games has got greater those people who had turned over a new leaf have slipped back into old habits. Tanni talked about still being patronised, things not being accessible. The impact of the Games was massive at the time but people are starting to slip back, which is a real shame. The press have a part to play. We should start to see a little bit more critical coverage of the Paralympics; in para sport people still shy away from being critical.”

It is about being treated as equals. She raises Jody Cundy’s disqualification as a case in point. Cundy lost his temper in spectacular fashion after being adjudged to have made a false start in the time trial.

“Jody did a false start – it was his own fault. But no one dared say that because at the time it was, ‘Wow, it’s amazing paralympic sport, everyone’s so passionate they are going to have an outburst like Jody’. It would be great to see people looking at both sides and being critical. We are all human.”

Some of Storey’s opponents may disagree with that. She dominated her four events, the pursuit and the 500m on the track and the time trial and road race at Brands Hatch. She equalled Grey-Thompon’s total of 11 Paralympic golds and is committed to improving the mark – Storey has turned 35 since the Games but has every intention of being in Rio in 2016, and may be there as both Paralympian and Olympian.

Barney, too, who won his third Paralympic gold with visually impaired rider Neil Fachie, has designs on a trip to Brazil. The pair are back on their bikes, recently spending a week warm-weather training in Lanzarote alongside Jo Rowsell, who won Olympic gold in the team pursuit.

For Rio the women’s pursuit will become a four-rider event as it is extended to 4km and Storey, who was in contention for a London Olympic place, remains highly rated by Shane Sutton, Britain’s head coach. “It’s an exciting prospect,” she says. “There’s some really talented girls in that group and it would be a privilege to work alongside them. It might be something that works, it might not be suitable for me. I think for all of that group, perhaps seven or eight of us, none of us really know how 4km will treat us. It’s a brand new event.”

Mention her (in sporting terms) advanced age – certainly when compared with the 20-year-old Laura Trott – and Storey brushes it away. “I’m the same age in cycling terms as Joanne Rowsell. We started at the same time, we have raced each other and swapped PBs all the way through this last seven years. So, for me ,in development terms in cycling, I’m in my  mid-twenties.”

Storey swam at her first four Paralympics before swapping sports – which is how she met Barney, whom she credits with transforming her into a cyclist – in 2005. Seven years on, she is absorbed in cycling. Retirement never crossed her mind; she plans to race again before the end of 2013.

Not that she didn’t enjoy the post-Games merry-go-round. She and Barney were taken on a tour of their five gold postboxes, there have been honorary degrees and other awards, while each has had a road named after them in Cheshire. “You want to go and cause a traffic jam on your own road so it gets on the radio – ‘a traffic jam on Sarah Storey Way…’,” suggests Sarah. “Yeah,” adds Barney, “caused by Sarah Storey.”

They look at each other. “Surreal,” sums up Sarah. Barney grins.

Spoty 2012 the shortlist

Nicola Adams, boxing Won first women’s boxing gold at London Olympics

Ben Ainslie, sailing Won his fourth Olympic gold medal at London 2012

Jessica Ennis, athletics Heptathlon Gold at London Olympics

Mo Farah, athletics 5,000m and 10,000m gold at London Games

Kath Grainger, rowing Won gold in London after three successive Olympics silvers

Chris Hoy, cycling Two golds at London Olympics to become GB’s most successful Olympian

Rory McIlroy, golf World No 1, winner of US PGA in 2012 and part of Ryder Cup success

Andy Murray, tennis Won 2012 US Open and gold and silver at London Olympics

Ellie Simmonds, swimming Two gold medals, one silver and one bronze at London Paralympics

Sarah Storey, cycling Four London Paralympic golds

David Weir, athletics Four London Paralympic gold medals

Bradley Wiggins, cycling Tour de France winner and Olympic gold

Tomorrow, BBC1, 7.30pm

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape