Among tandem pilot Helen Scott MBE’s vast honours collection are four Paralympic medals, including the gold that she won alongside Sophie Thornhill in the women’s tandem kilo in the Rio velodrome. As she looks ahead to attempting to retain that crown in Tokyo, she gave us an insight into how an athlete’s mindset changes when there is a title to defend.
“For most athletes, entering 2021 will feel a little like déjà vu. This Christmas was supposed to be one for celebrating the past four years of relentless work towards the only goal on our minds each cycle: the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“However, with the pandemic having stopped 2020 in its tracks, those celebrations will have to wait, and we’ve been granted one more year to re-think our approach, to put in some extra graft, and to keep dreaming about the Games.
“After joining the Great Britain Cycling Team, I waited eight years and two Paralympic cycles to stand on top of a Paralympic Games podium – what’s one extra year to try do it again?!
“Ahead of the Rio Paralympics, all that was on my mind was turning the silver medal I achieved in London into a gold one this time around, with my stoker Sophie Thornhill.
“But, as you’ve probably heard a thousand times or experienced yourself, once you’ve crossed the finish line fastest, thrown the furthest, jumped or scored the highest, heard the roar of the crowd as they realise you’ve just made history, felt the weight of a gold medal around your neck, sang to your national anthem that is playing because of YOU, and celebrated with your team, teammates, family and friends, you just want to do it all over again.
“Approaching the Games now as a defending champion, I feel the same mixture of excitement and nerves as I did when I’d been selected for my first Paralympic Games in London. As each cycle passes, the goalposts move, your event gets quicker, and there are new, fast competitors to face.
“This challenge creates the excitement, and to be better again is always the goal. I carry the weight of going into Tokyo as defending champion proudly, and I do get goosebumps when I daydream about it a little too much; I’ve learned that this only means that I’m still hungry for it.
“All being well, this will be my third Games, but if I could give one piece of advice to athletes preparing for their first Games, it would be to stay focused on your goal. When I arrived at the athletes’ village in London, I was overwhelmed by it all.
“I wasn’t focused enough on my performance to be able to dim down the ‘noise’ that followed me around in the days leading up to my race. The athletes’ village is truly a spectacular place to be, filled with thousands of new, friendly faces, more food choices than you can even think of, and plenty of activities to keep you busy.
“But it can also be exhausting, and can take you away from the pre-competition routine that you’ve painstakingly prepared over the past four, five, six years. Relax in your apartment when you’re not training, do what you usually do to get ready for competing, don’t divert, and do your job to the best of your ability.
“The wonders of the athletes’ village, and all of your soon-to-be new best friends will still be there once your time to shine at the greatest sporting event in the world is complete. I’d thoroughly recommend then to eat all the McDonald’s and drink all of the chocolate milk you can (and hit me up for the best partying spots too…if COVID allows!).
“This extra year that we’ve had to wait to compete at the Games has been hard for many, a blessing for others. All I know is, no matter what the results, every single athlete, staff member, organiser, and family and friend who’ve had to wipe our tears away when we thought it was just too much, or too far away, will celebrate more than ever before.”