Women's Tokyo 2021 Paralympics debrief

As the cycling events at the Tokyo Paralympic Games conclude, we take a look at the medals and standout rides

Like the Olympics before them, the Paralympics are as much about the human stories behind the medals as the sporting successes themselves. Indeed, possibly more so given the additional obstacles and adversities that many of the athletes have had to overcome to get there, and Tokyo has been no different. The cycling events at this Paralympics have highlighted some extraordinary stories of strength and determination. 

Cycling has been part of the Paralympic Games since 1984. Like most Paralympic sports, it is divided into classifications based on the physical or visual impairment of the athlete to ensure fair competition. 

​For the uninitiated, the classifications are divided as follows; C (traditional bicycles with adaptations), T (tricycles), H (hand cycles), and B (tandem). Most of the classifications are subdivided depending on the type and severity of athlete impairment, there are thirteen classes in total for both men and women: C 1-5, H 1-5, and T 1 and 2.

Names to know 

Even those who are unfamiliar with Para cycling are still likely to know the name Dame Sarah Storey. Britain’s most successful Paralympian won a record sixteenth gold medal in the C-5 ITT, after claiming gold in the C5 5,000m individual pursuit on the track ahead of GB teammate Crystal Lane-Wright and Marie Patouillet of France. The following week, on the road, Storey took her seventeenth medal in the C4-5 road race, again ahead of Lane-Wright. 

Image: Alex Whitehead/SWPix

Storey’s career is as long as it is decorated; she started out as a swimmer and won four Paralympic gold medals before the age of 19, including two in Barcelona 1992 when she was just 14 years old. In 1996, Storey went on to claim a further three gold medals in swimming events before switching to cycling in 2005 and taking two gold medals in the time trial and individual pursuit at the 2008 Paralympic Games. Storey also competes against able-bodied athletes and did so at the Commonwealth Games in Dehli in 2010. 

Related: Jenny Holl and Sophie Unwin: the duo taking the tandem racing scene by storm

Elsewhere in the track endurance events Paige Greco of Australia took gold in the C 1-3 3,000m individual pursuit ahead of Wang Xiaomei of China and Denise Schindler of Germany. While Australian Emily Petricola claimed gold in the C4 3,000m individual pursuit ahead of Shawn Morelli of the USA and Keely Shaw of Canada.  

Image: Alex Whitehead/SWPix

The sprint events are the domain of another British athlete, Kadeena Cox. The 30-year-old from Leeds competes across both athletics and cycling and began her career as an able-bodied athlete. Cox started out running 100 and 200m events and was looking to gain a spot on the national Skeleton team before suffering a stroke in 2014.

After returning to training following rehab, Cox began to experience further symptoms and was subsequently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Cox then set her sights on the 2016 Paralympics which she entered as both a track and field runner and a cyclist and she went on to win gold in the 500m time trial. After a late selection to Tokyo, Cox defended her 500m time trial title and won gold in the 750m team sprint C 1-5 alongside Jody Cundy and Jaco van Gass. 

Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

Another track rider with an extraordinary story is Kate O’Brien of Canada. O’Brien is a former bobsledder who was part of Canada’s track cycling team in Rio for the sprint. The following year, however, O’Brien suffered a life-changing accident during a track demonstration which left her fighting for her life with a severe head injury. Told by doctors that she would be unable to compete in sports again, O’Brien refused to succumb to that fate and underwent a rehab programme that saw her return to cycling as part of Canada’s Para cycling team.

O’Brien went on to win a gold medal at the Para Cycling World Championships in 2020 in the C4 500m sprint as well as taking the world record for the 200m time trial. In Tokyo, the 33-year-old’s first Paralympics, O’Brien took silver in the C4-5 500m TT behind Cox. 

Image: Alex Whitehead/SWPix

In the hand cycle events, the USA's Oksana Masters dominated. Masters took both the H5 road race and H 4-5 time trial. Her background is also one of exceptional fortitude in the face of hardship. Originally from Ukraine, Masters was born with radiation-induced birth defects thought to be caused by the after-effects of the ​​Chernobyl disaster. 

Masters was born with myriad defects including tibial hemimelia resulting in different leg lengths, webbed fingers, and missing shinbones. She was abandoned by her birth parents and passed between orphanages until the age of seven when she was adopted by an American speech therapist. Later, Masters had both legs amputated after they became painful. 

The 32-year-old started her paralympic career at the age of 13 in rowing. At the London Paralympic Games in 2012, Masters won bronze in the trunk and arms mixed double sculls alongside Rob Jones. After a back injury precluded her from further rowing competitions Masters moved to cycling and cross country skiing -- meaning she competes across both the summer and winter Paralympic Games. Remarkably, just 100 days prior to winning her gold medal in Tokyo, Masters was hospitalised following leg surgery. 

Further results

Amanda Reid of Australia took the gold medal in the C 1-3 500m ahead of Alyda Norbruis of the Netherlands and Qian Wangwei of China. In the tandem (B) events, it was Larissa Klaassen with Imke Brommer as her pilot who won the 1000m time trial ahead of Aileen McGlynn OBE of Great Britain with Helen Scott and Griet Hoet of Belgium with Anneleen Monsieur as her pilot. 

Image: Alex Whitehead/SWPix

On the road, Katie-George Dunlevy of Ireland took the B individual time trial gold with Eve McCrystal as her pilot, while Lora Fachie took silver with Corrine Hall for Great Britain and Louise Jannering and Anna Svaerdstroem claimed bronze for Sweden.

Jenny Holl and Sophie Unwin took an impressive silver medal in the women's B road race with Ireland's Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal doing the double and taking another gold. The British tandem was one of three that broke away early in their race, with the three teams neck and neck until the closing straight.

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