Cycling legend Sarah Storey makes history for Great Britain with 17th Paralympic gold medal

History in the making as Sarah Storey is crowned Great Britain's most successful Paralympic athlete after winning her 17th gold medal in the C4-5 cycling road race at the Fuji International Speedway on Day 9 at Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Sarah Storey has made history as Great Britain’s most successful Paralympian of all time after winning the C4-5 road race on Day 9 at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

The 43-year-old battled heavy rain for much of the 66km race to cross the line first and into the record books at the Fuji International Speedway.

It was her 17th Paralympic gold medal, the most any British athlete has ever won before, and broke her joint record with swimmer Mike Kenny’s of 16. Storey, who has also amassed a staggering 37 world titles in cycling and swimming, punched the air with delight as the recognition of her monumental achievement sunk in at what was her eighth Paralympic Games.

"I couldn't have imagined being at eight Games, let alone winning medals at every Games, and 17 of those medals being gold. It's the dream I didn't have coming through," she said. "I wanted to be a British athlete and compete for my country for as long as I possibly could. To still be going strong in Games number eight is truly amazing.

"I've never felt a weight on my shoulders. Each race is a race, but it is the sweetest feeling to go back to my room and know there are a couple of gold medals in the safe to put this one with. That makes the tally very real then."

Earlier in the Games, Storey also won gold and broke her own world record in the women's cycling track C5 3000m individual pursuit. She also secured victory in the C5 cycling road time trial.

Her third gold was equally well earned. As the the defending Paralympic champion of the C4-5 road race she fought hard to claim the historic victory. Germany’s two-time world champion Kerstin Brachtendorf, 49, had lead for much of the way, and was more than a minute ahead of Storey going into the final laps before the British athlete made her move and finished in 2:21:58. Her compatriot Crystal Lane-Wright, 35, was just behind to take silver in 2:21:58 and France’s Marie Patouillet was in bronze. Brachtendorf came fifth.

"I'm defending champion and everybody wants me to take them to the line," said Storey after the race. "I didn't expect any help. I knew it was my race to judge. Crystal came through on the penultimate climb to make sure we closed that gap, and then it was down to me to try and get us the gap in the finish. In that last descent I didn't touch my brakes, I just went for it." 

On racing in the rain, she added: "The preparation and racing in the rain at home really paid off today. I know I can go around corners as quick in the wet as I can in the dry, and it was great fun not touching your brakes when you went through corners. These are the conditions I was wishing for in London 2012 Paralympic Games, so we finally get them in Japan."

The question now is whether Storey, a mother of two who is married to Barney, a three-time cycling Paralympic champion, will go for more golds at the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games: "I need to go home and have a rest and gather my thoughts and talk to Barney and the kids and my parents and work out where we go from here," she said. "We've talked about Paris 2024. I'd love to have a big bike ride from London to Paris, towing my bags behind me or something."

The podium line-up in the women's C4-5 road race, with Great Britain in gold and silver and France in bronze, was replicated in the men’s equivalent. Great Britain’s Benjamin Watson, 32, who was making his Paralympic debut, finished the men's C4-5 road race in 2:04:23 to claim gold with compatriot Finlay Graham crossing the line in 2:05:43 to get silver. France’s Alexandre Leaute took the bronze.