Today at the Paralympic Games: Storey can give Team GB a golden start
Cyclist who is in fantastic form can inspire Britain's Paralympic team as she goes in her best event this afternoon
"Sarah," suggests Chris Furber, Britain's lead Paralympic coach, "seems to eat pressure for breakfast." The Sarah in question is Storey, who this morning will ease her bike on to the Velodrome to begin in earnest her sixth Paralympic Games. By tea-time the expectation is that the 34-year-old will be standing on top of the podium – for the eighth time – watching the Union flag resume its lofty position in an arena that produced many of Britain's stellar moments during the Olympic Games.
Storey is cut from the same mould as Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Jason Kenny; nurtured in the same Manchester hothouse, backed by the same coaches, technicians, sports scientists, riding the same type of bike and wearing the same kit. She came close, painfully so, to being part of the same Olympic team. Last year she was part of the team-pursuit squad, riding in the Manchester leg of the World Cup, only to be dropped just before Christmas.
Instead she has reverted to being the totem of the Paralympic squad, one which has been carefully designed to pick up where the Olympians left off a handful of weeks ago. Today will be the first of four golden bids by Storey, two on the track, two on the road.
"In the last two years she has done two able-bodied World Cups and the Commonwealth Games – this is just another sporting occasion for her," says Furber. "She is coming into the Games in fantastic form and starts with her best event. In terms of giving momentum to the team that is great for us.
"She can do for us what Bradley did for the able-bodied team – a gold for her would get the ball rolling. It is about confidence, you saw that in Beijing. You can see the confidence going through the squad. It's looking really, really good."
Storey provides an obvious link between the two squads but behind the scenes the two have long since effectively become one. The Paralympic squad have spent the build-up to the Games preparing at the same Newport velodrome where the Olympians laid their final plans under Dave Brailsford's watchful gaze. Brailsford was back in Newport last Thursday for the Paralympians' final day in Wales. After training he addressed the squad, urging them to use the support that awaits them in the London Velodrome – while not letting it disrupt their rhythm – to match the success of their Olympic predecessors.
Steve Peters, the psychologist whom Pendleton credits with playing a huge part in her enduring success, is already ensconced in the Velodrome, while Shane Sutton, British Cycling's head coach, will soon be in situ too.
"We are the same as them but four weeks behind, same bikes, same equipment, same expectation," says Furber, who shares an office in Manchester with the rest of the cycling coaches. "It is a positive experience – there is a free and frank exchange of ideas." The plans for the Paralympics are picked over as closely as any others.
Rik Waddon, a time trial silver medallist in Beijing, also begins his pursuit of gold this morning. Waddon is enthused by the intertwining of the two teams, and Brailsford's contribution to both.
"It's awesome," says Waddon. "He keeps coming up with these marginal gains and we're like 'Where did he get those from?' We have been working alongside the Olympics guys, same equipment, same everything and it has worked really well for us. In Beijing we were like how can it be better than this and four years later it is.
"It is amazing, I'm so glad to be part of this generation and able to compete in London. You never thought you would get this in your lifetime, but it's here and I'm part of it."
As in the Olympics a change to the scheduling, which has seen a shift towards the road, means Britain will not match their previous total of 17 gold medals. Furber, though, is "quietly confident" of meeting the challenge set by British Cycling of winning 10-15 gold medals.
There is another factor that will accompany the Paralympians on to the track – and next week the road at Brands Hatch – as it did the likes of Hoy and Laura Trott, the pressure of expectation. If it's cycling, it must mean a British gold is just a quick pedal around the next corner.
"We handle that pressure very well," says Furber. "There is an ethos in the squad not to settle for second best. If you are at the top it is incredibly difficult to stay there, if you don't reinvent yourselves you are going to fall back fairly quickly. We are confident what we are doing is the right thing. We will look to be dominant on the track."
Today's Brit watch
Di Coates – shooting
58-year-old Di Coates is competing in her eighth Paralympics, and is big favourite to add to her three shooting golds in the women's R2 10m air rifle standing (SH1). Coates, not surprisingly the most experienced Paralympian in the British team, starts at the Royal Artillery Barracks at 9.00am.
Great Britain begin their defence of the equestrian team title after gold medals in each of the past four Games, with Germany tipped as the biggest threat standing in the way of a fifth consecutive success. The event begins at 9.15am at Greenwich Park, with Sophie Christiansen, Lee Pearson, Deborah Criddle and Sophie Wells making up the team.
The British men will be making their debut at these Games against the Beijing silver medallists and world champions Lithuania at 9am at the Copperbox, while the women's team, featuring Anna Sharkey, are also in action, up against world champions China at 6.30pm.
Darren Kenny – cycling
The 42-year-old, awarded an OBE in 2009, begins the defence of his 1km time-trial title in the Velodrome at 2pm in the C3 category. For what would be his seventh Paralympic gold, the rider from Salisbury will have to shake off stiff competition from fellow Brit Rik Waddon.
Ben Quilter – judo
Competing in the under-60kg category, visually-impaired Quilter came fifth on his Paralympic debut in Beijing four years ago and will inevitably be desperate to claim gold on home soil this time around. He has a bye into the second round, with the event at the ExCel North Hall Two beginning at 11am and culminating at 6.10pm with the gold-medal match.
Paralympic Games Breakfast Show Channel 4: 7-9.15am.
Live coverage Channel 4: 9.15am-12pm, 12.05-1pm, 1-3.25pm, 5.25-6.30pm, 7.30-10.30pm.
Additional coverage More4: 3.25-5.25pm, 6.25-7.30pm.
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