Sarah can you tell us a little about yourself, where do you hail from, where you attended school and university etc?
I was born in Cheadle Hulme, but grew up in Disley and then attended school in Poynton, college in Marple and finished my studies with a BSc (hons) in Sport and Exercise Science at Leeds Metropolitan University. Sport has always been at the centre of my life and living on the edge of the Peak District allows me to have an outdoors life!
What was the first contact you had playing sport?
My primary school was big into sport and our headmaster Chris Parker was very keen on us all doing lots of sports. So I just did everything. I played in an adult table tennis league while at primary school and also did cross country, netball, rounders, gymnastics and of course swimming. I was even on the lads cricket team for a while too!
Now I know that your first professional sport was swimming tell me about that.
Swimming was really the first sport I took beyond the national level, having competed at county and national level in table tennis, cross country, athletics and netball. I was training with Stockport Metro swimming club when I was selected for my first Paralympics in 1992 and continued to train with them until I went to University. After that I moved to City of Salford and then Stretford Swimming Club and around the time of the Commonwealth Games started training at the Manchester Aquatic Centre. I was blessed with my swimming career, meeting some fantastic training partners and coaches, who all helped me climb the ladder.
You turned out to be very good at swimming, what did that do for your confidence?
Having the ability to win world and Paralympic titles across six or seven different events in swimming was such a privilege. Being in good shape and being reasonably lucky with illness and injury in that I always got rid of any problems, meant that I enjoyed a long career in the pool. It adds to the experience when you have gold medals and amazing stories after events to be able to share with people.
As well as taking part in Paralympic sport you have also been successful in able bodied sport as well. Tell me about that.
I was always training alongside able-bodied athletes, competing in their events and using the additional competition opportunities to try and improve my personal best times. Being able to race alongside the able-bodied athletes was only ever at regional and national level in swimming, but when I turned to cycling I found that I was able to step up and take on fields in international events. It has always been about becoming a better athlete and you can only do that by racing people who beat you. I have now got to the stage where I am able to win able-bodied national level races and so I know I am still improving!
In 2011 you were part of the GB Team pursuit squad at the Manchester Cup where you guys nearly broke the world record. What was that like?
It was such an incredible event being in Manchester and having the home crowd right behind us. It was also my first international team pursuit event and only the 3rd time I had raced the event at a competition as well! I was so delighted to be able to make such a big contribution and ultimately put my name in the hat for Olympic selection. Unfortunately that hasn’t gone on to happen, but the experience of racing in that event at that level was amazing and there is no Team Pursuit at the Paralympics, so it was an entirely new event for me.
What do you make of the success of Oscar Pistorius?
Oscar and I have had similar careers and used able-bodied competitions to race more often and become better athletes. His success has been exciting to watch and he will continue to push himself to beat his own personal bests and anyone else that he can. In timed events on the track or in the pool the only competition that really matters is your own best time and as Oscar has pushed to beat his personal bests he has been able to get selected for able-bodied events like myself. It’s brilliant to see the cross over and obviously Natalie de Toit in swimming has done similar.
Are you happy with the profile of Disability Sport at the moment?
The profile is growing all the time and perceptions are changing too. It’s hard to grow a profile quickly and change perceptions at the same time, but I think we are starting to see that. People in the Paralympics are just athletes who have some form of impairment. They aren’t disabled people trying to do sport which has often been the misconception in the past. There has been a lot of pressure on the Games in London to change perception and increase the profile at the same time and only time will tell if that can happen.
My hope is that the average person on the street will refer to a Paralympian as an athlete of epic physical capabilities, rather than the usual response of how well some one has done despite their disability. There are still people who believe Paralympians are suffering from a disability or have greater challenges than their Olympic counterparts. This is nonsense and is the part of the profile I would like to change the most.
Your disability is that you have only one hand. What was that like when you were growing up?
It was just normal! I have never had another hand to compare it to, so I wouldn’t change anything. I can do everything I want and it is ever something that I think about and it never was as a youngster either. I am lucky that no one ever singled me out, or no one important did. I have received comments, like a coach that wouldn’t coach me because I only had one hand, but I saw that more as his loss than mine.
I think I first got to know you during the Commonwealth Games in Manchester which were 10 years ago what were the Games like for you as a Manchester girl?
Manchester’s Commonwealth Games were fantastic! There was such a great buzz around the city and the organisation and venues were just superb. I was fortunate to be involved in putting together the Village for the athletes and seeing that happen from behind the scenes and then experiencing the Village as an athlete was amazing. I always talk about that being the first Home Games and how London will be my second and obviously now as a cyclist.
Back then you were competing in swimming but now you are a cyclist. Tell me how that came about.
I learned to ride the track at the Manchester Velodrome after the Games in Athens in 2004 and then that new skill came in handy when in the early part of 2005 I started to struggle with ear infections. I used the bike in the gym, on the road and at the track as a way of staying fit while I wasn’t allowed to swim. The longer my ears were bad, the more I got involved in cycling and I started to do a couple of local races. Then British Cycling offered me a trial for the 2005 European Championships. I was only 1 second slower than the world record for 3000m at the trials and so got selected for the team.
After winning the 3000m and the Road Race at Europeans, I was then offered a permanent place on the cycling team and had to make a decision as the swim team were waiting for me to get the all clear on my ears. It was a tough decision, but I chatted everything through with my swimming coach, Colin Hood and he helped me realise how much I had achieved in the pool and how good the opportunity with cycling was.
The word is that you are hoping to compete in 5 events at the London Paralympic Games. Firstly is that correct and how confident are you that you can comeback with some gold?
Four individual events, there is a team event I am eligible for but I am not in the training squad for that at the moment. I have two events in which I am defending champion, so my main focus is to try and defend those titles and then anything after that will be a bonus!
As we speak you are waiting for the GB team for London 2012 to be announced, what’s that like?
It is business as usual until the team is announced, then we have the rounds of kit collections, team agreements and all the info being sent to us for Games time. It never feels real until you start to get everything together like that and then you just get your head down and do the job. It is a different environment to live and perform, but the job remains the same as it does at any event, we have to be the fastest we can be.
Is it right that these will be your 6th Paralympic Games and what have been you hi-lights so far?
Yes, London will be my 6th Games and the highlights are definitely the seven gold medals. It is so amazing being able to stand on the top of the rostrum with the gold medal round your neck, knowing that the build up, training and all the effort has come together to produce a performance that makes you the best in the world.
In 1998 you received an MBE who presented it and what was that like?
I received my MBE from Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace. It was an amazing day and at the age of 20 so hard to take in. The Queen is an amazing lady and I felt so proud meeting her and receiving the medal from her.
Then in 2009 in the New Years Honours List you became an OBE. Have I got this right? Who presented it this time and how did it make you feel?
Yes I was awarded the OBE on the same day that Barney, my husband, received his MBE and this time we were presented by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal. She is an avid sports fan and someone I was fortunate enough to meet on a few occasions prior to that day, the first time being the opening of the Manchester Airport Rail Link. She asked me if I would ever go back to swimming and told me that I had done remarkably well to make the switch so successfully. The Royal Family are just an amazing example to us all and they have so much time for the people they are meeting, I am constantly amazed at the stamina they have for meeting the people of the UK and Commonwealth.
What’s this about you and Sex in the City and Mastermind?
I was asked to pick a subject for Celebrity Mastermind, but it wasn’t allowed to be sport related. About the only thing I have as a Box Set is Sex and The City, so I chose that as a subject and then had to re-watch the first two series. This was a seriously time consuming activity as there are 30 episodes across those first two series! I was amazed I found the time to get through them all, but more importantly raised some money for my two charities Children’s Adventure Farm and Boot Out Breast Cancer. It was fun to meet the other “celebrities” and although I came 4th out of the 4 contestants it was a fun evening.
One of your biggest disappointments must have been getting dropped from the Team Pursuit squad in 2011. What was that like and what was your reaction?
I just had to walk away and get on with my training for the other events I have. Obviously it would have been great to keep riding in the Team Pursuit because there is nothing like that at the Paralympics, but in a team event someone else makes the decisions and is in charge of the team performance and piecing that performance together. I was not seen to be an important part of the jigsaw that will hopefully lead the remaining girls to gold this summer, so had to walk away when asked.
I have been able to concentrate on my road racing career since being dropped and am now leading the National Road Race series for women in the UK and earned my first top 10 finish in a stage of a professional women’s stage race in South Africa, coming joint 12th overall. With one door closing, another opens and although Road Racing doesn’t get the same attention for women at professional level, it is a big goal of mine to improve in that area too and something I really enjoy doing.
You are married to Barney, how did you meet and what is he like?
Barney and I met while I was still a swimmer and we were friends for a while until he asked me out on a date in early 2005. He is a laid back but very driven person and pilots the British sprint tandem with a visually impaired rider on the back. London will be his 3rd Games and he has ridden with lots of different partners during his career.
The influence and input he has in my cycling is invaluable and without his support and expertise in both mechanical support, road racing and technical areas I would not be able to produce the level of performance that I do on the bike. Prior to piloting the tandem he was an elite rider on the road and then on the able-bodied sprint squad too, so he has a vast experience and understanding of all the events I am trying to juggle.
So what does the future hold for Sarah Bailey in the short term and in the long term?
In the short term obviously the Games and then some downtime to recover and relax and have a holiday and then at the end of the year I will get back into training for next season and the build up to the Games in Rio in 2016. I would love to put my name back into the hat for the Team Pursuit beyond London and also further pursue my career on the road. Beyond Rio I am not sure, but I know sport will always be in my life and regardless of the level I am racing at I will always ride my bike and race locally. There are some fantastic cycling clubs in the north west organising events every weekend and people race from aged 10 to aged 100, so it really is a sport for all.
Finally can you give us you give us your total medal haul at the moment?
Paralympics: 7 gold, 8 silver, 3 bronze
World Championships: 20 gold, 9 silver, 4 bronze
European Championships: 23 gold
World Cups: 2 gold Team Pursuit
Be the first to write a comment.