Jody Cundy: 'I am always redefining what my body can do'

Jody Cundy is on track to add to his five Paralympic titles this summer

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The Independent Online

Jody Cundy paints a small gold circle on his racing leg for each of the Paralympic titles he has won. There are five of them. "There's a bit of space at the top," says Cundy. "I can fit in a few more there..."

Cundy has had an artificial limb since the age of three, when his right leg was amputated below the knee. He had been born with a deformed foot. His racing leg, also decorated with distinctive rainbow colours that only a cycling world champion can bear, is designed by the Icelandic company behind Oscar Pistorius's blades. "In cycling," says Cundy, "time is measured to the thousandth of a second. It's quite easy to lose a race by one one-thousandth of a second. When you're talking thousandths of a second between winning and losing it is about finding anything that can help: the disc wheels we use, the skin suits we wear. An extension of my bike is my artificial leg."

It was nothing of the sort when he first took to the saddle. Seven years ago he turned up at an open day at the Newport Velodrome to try a sport that had stirred his interest since Chris Boardman had won Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992. Cundy clambered on to the bike with what he calls his "NHS leg" but it, and its owner, were quick enough to attract the interest of the watching coaches. Their enquiries exposed his sporting pedigree; Cundy was already a three-time Paralympian swimming gold medallist. He returned to the water, but his interest was piqued.

A year later, Cundy was in Manchester for swimming trials. Sarah Storey, a swimming team-mate who had already decided she wanted to get out of the water and on to a bike, suggested he accompany her to the velodrome to try out in front of the British coaches. Fast forward two years and they were both standing on top of Paralympic podiums to claim gold in a second sport.

Cundy is now the fastest Paralympic cyclist in the world. This week he will fly to Los Angeles heavily favoured to add to the eight world titles already in his possession. After that will come a two-week holiday with his girlfriend before he returns to Manchester and the daily grind of training alongside Chris Hoy – who has suggested Cundy will be one of the stars of 2012 – and the rest of Britain's multi-garlanded cycling elite. It is the start of what Victoria Pendleton calls "shutdown" for the Games in six months' time.

"You have to try and put London and the fact that it's a home Games out of your head until the race. You can't let that get to you," says Cundy, who revels in the competition and intensity of training alongside the Olympians. "It is fantastic to train and work with people who have achieved so much."

It is not, though, a one-way street. "I have challenges the able-bodied athletes don't have, so they are learning from us as well."

Cundy talks happily of how the next generation of Olympians are frantically chasing Hoy, Jason Kenny and Co around the Manchester velodrome while he is pursuing the next generation. "I'm not far off them," he says. That is an important benchmark for Cundy.

He has become an avid promoter of Paralympic sport – as a child with a disability who was always keen on sport he was blissfully unaware of the Paralympics until he began to swim competitively – but also a believer that athletes with disabilities should not content themselves with being the best in their class. There is always a quicker time to strive for, or someone to catch, be they Paralympian, athlete with a disability, able athlete or an Olympian.

"When you are on the track it is you against the clock," says Cundy. "Day in day out you push yourself to the absolute limit, constantly redefining what your body can do."

Cundy's body, and a float that did not fulfil its job description, nearly cut off his sporting career, and indeed his life, when he was five. He leapt eagerly into a pool and moments later found himself sinking to the bottom. Cundy was rescued by a fully-clothed parent who jumped in after him. It caused his startled mother to insist he join a club and learn to swim properly.

By the time he was 15 he was a world champion, at 17 he won his first Paralympic gold in butterfly at the Atlanta Games. He competed in the pool in Sydney and Athens, but the early mornings – "cycling training is more social!" – and the curiosity that had first taken him into the pool took him out and on to his bike. Cundy, 33, won two cycling golds in Beijing and the aim is to add three more in London come September. He will have a new racing leg for the Paralympics.

He had hoped to take it to LA, but it is not yet ready for action. Instead it sits in the bathroom in his Manchester home awaiting finishing touches, including a paint job.

Jody Cundy is one of 10 Paralympians in Sainsbury's and Channel 4 present, the second series of short films on Channel 4. Catch the programmes from Monday at 7:55pm and at 7:30pm on Fridays.