With the Tokyo Olympics ending only last summer, it's hard to believe that the next Games are less than 1,000 days ahead, but that's something Olympic athletes and para-athletes need to live with and prepare for. "We're already a year and a half into the next period into Paris, so we haven't long to prepare for the Games like we normally would," says Jody Cundy OBE, who has competed in seven Paralympic Games (in swimming and cycling) since 1996, when he was just 18 years old.
Though Cundy hasn't quite had the time he would have liked to prepare for the next Paralympics, he remains positive and focused.
"The 2023 worlds are in Glasgow. And I want to be part of it because it's a world first: every single cycling discipline has got the World Championships in the space of 7-10 days: para-cycling (road and track), able-bodied (road and track), there's mountain biking, cyclo-cross, you name it, they're all there at the same time," he says. "So it's an interesting concept and one that hasn't been pulled off before. I'm really intrigued to see how it comes together."
Portrait by Véronique Rolland
Now recovered from an injury that required him to get surgery in the off-season, Cundy is ready to get on his bike, hit the track, and tackle another busy three years in the sport ahead of his eighth Paralympic Games. After having won a total of 12 Paralympic medals (8 golds, one silver, three bronzes) and 20 world titles in cycling and swimming combined, one may ask how he finds the motivation after so much success in his career already.
"It's the fact that I enjoy doing what I do. I enjoy my cycling, and I think you really need that to be able to do the training," he says. "And for me, as long as I still have the love for the sport, I still enjoy doing the sport, I have the physical attributes to be able to do it, I'm not injured, and I'm still competitive – if all of those parts are still present, I'm trying to keep going as long as possible."
Looking at his time splits, you begin to understand why. In Tokyo, at the age of 43, Cundy rode his fastest kilo and his fastest team sprint, breaking the world record in the latter.
"I'm 43 now, and I'm still improving," he says. "In lockdown, we learned a lot about what works for me in training. And I think that's what made us successful and dedicated. So we've got a lot of lessons that we've learned. It'd be nice to keep applying them until the next games."
Photo credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com
With more people getting into Paralympic sports, mainly through the Team GB pathway, selection for events is becoming more and more competitive. With this in mind, Cundy is looking to constantly up his game. Young cyclists who have been inspired by his own success are now fighting against him for a place in the next Games.
"Somebody who used to be on our squad, he said he was in his hospital bed, watching me race in Beijing ," recalls Cundy. "He said he wanted to do that as well. And then, in 2011, three years later, we were in a world championship-winning team sprint together, road riding together."
Though Cundy is passionate about getting more people into the sport, he stays fully aware that this makes selection for big competitions even more difficult. "I have to keep on focusing because, at any point, there can be anybody that takes up space," he says.
Portrait by Véronique Rolland
On the track, at the Paralympics, there are four different events (a one-kilometre time trial, tandem sprint, team sprint, and individual pursuit), divided into five other classes based on the level of impairment (C1 to C5). Cyclists with a visual impairment race on the tandem with a guide or pilot. On the road, there are four disciplines (tandem, bicycles, tricycles, and handcycles) for a total of seven different classifications. For the men's squad, Team GB has just seven spots across all the classification and classes.
"It's a cut-throat environment, and you could quite easily leave a World Champion or a potential podium person at home because the quality of the squad is so good," he says.
As Cundy started in swimming, then moved into cycling, I wonder if there is any possibility of him transitioning into another discipline?
"I think it would definitely be a sit-down sport, or something a lot more relaxed and less physical." he confesses. "If I can find something a little bit more relaxing, a little bit more chilled, who knows. I can really see myself maybe behind the scenes, helping the next set of Paralympians along the way."
With his experience and palmarès, we can’t think of anyone better than Cundy to develop the next generation of GB's Paralympic hopefuls.
Cover image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com