Sir Chris Hoy might have packed his bags and left the Olympic Village, but that doesn’t mean that Team GB’s domination of the London velodrome is over. Jody Cundy MBE, 33, who clocked up 23 international swimming medals before switching to two wheels and securing two golds in Beijing, is out for more. He faces stiff competition, however, from John-Allan Butterworth, another member of the cycling team that represents, as with the Olympics, Britain’s biggest hope for gold medals.
Cundy was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, with a deformed foot which was amputated when he was three years old - a straightfoward tale compared with the life-changing events that begin some Paralympic careers. “In the Paralympics everybody has a story,” he said, “so if you’re born with it like me, it’s kind of boring.”
His sporting achievements, by contrast, are far from dull. Having nearly drowned during his first swimming lesson aged five, he persevered and was racing competitively for Kings Lynn Swimming Club by the age of 10. His international debut came in 1994, aged 16, when he represented the UK at the World Swimming Championships and took seconds off his best time to take gold in the 100m Butterfly. Thirteen further swimming golds, plus four silver and five bronze, made Cundy one of Britain’s most decorated athletes ever - before his cycling career even began.
His potential on that front was spotted in 2005, after a ride at Newport velodrome. Cundy was invited to try out for the 2006 Paralympic cycling World Cup squad while still swimming on the GB team, and made the grade. He was part of a team sprint trio which won gold and set a new world record, at which point he hung up his goggles. He has only been in the pool 10 times since that day, he says.
Cundy won his first individual gold medal at the Track World Championships in Aigle, Switzerland in 2006, breaking the world record in the process. He has gone on to become the fastest solo Paralympian on a bike, winning multiple medals, including two golds in Beijing. In London, his fifth Games, Cundy hopes for yet more medals, and will compete in two individual and possibly one team sprint event in the C4 class.
But he also hopes to take away something more than titles. Cundy wants status and recognition - not just for himself but for Paralympians across the board, and knows London is a huge opportunity for athletes like him to become household names.
“At last people are recognising what goes into Paralympic sports. These Games are massive, so that means much more pressure, but is also an opportunity for athletes like me to shine. I hope it won’t be about sad stories. We want to be on the back pages not in the glossy magazines.”
Changes to the events programme, classification system and improvements within other teams means Britain’s cyclists will find it difficult to replicate their haul of 17 golds from Beijing. “We know we’re in a better place as a team but we probably won’t come home with as many medals,” he says.
Cundy’s attitude towards those seeking to steal his spot at the top of the sport is simple: bring it on. “I am trying to stay one step ahead and keep on top of it all,” he says, “but the competition is good for me.”