Helen Scott on track to find a stoker following Sophie Thornhill’s retirement
Helen Scott is confident she and British Cycling are on schedule in their bid to find her a new blind or visually impaired partner for next year’s Paralympic Games after a successful testing weekend in Manchester.
With this week marking one year to go until the rearranged Games are due to get under way in Tokyo, the clock is ticking for Scott following the retirement of her stoker Sophie Thornhill, with whom she won the tandem kilo in Rio four years ago as part of a six-year partnership which also yielded eight world titles.
But this summer’s appeal for hopefuls to put themselves forward has borne fruit and earlier this month 18 candidates were put through their paces over two days at the National Cycling Centre with encouraging results.
Now three of those riders will be invited to go forward to the next phase.
“We have identified a couple of women who look like they might have huge potential,” Scott told the PA news agency. “I’m not allowed to say too much about them at this point, but it’s really positive. We have identified some riders and it’s going to be really exciting over the next couple of months.”
Scott admitted she had not known what to expect when the hopefuls assembled in Manchester just over a week ago.
Those who turned up ranged from keen cyclists to horse riders, rowers, and tennis players wanting to try something new.
“I was asking all of them over the weekend where they’d found out about it,” Scott said. “It was a real mix. Some of them had no background in sport and saw it as an opportunity to get involved which was great.
“But they all performed quite impressively and we had a long list on the Saturday night of about nine – so half of the group we were interested in overnight. It just shows you what people are capable of when they go in and try something new.”
As Tokyo draws ever closer, a number of deadlines loom as the process moves forward. The chosen rider must be ready to compete in the British national championships in January to earn selection for the World Championships, scheduled for March in Rio.
That means the hard work is only just starting as those riders picked out must turn raw potential into competitive pace, but Scott is full of optimism.
“We’re very excited,” she said. “When someone is so new the improvements can come so quickly so we’ve got a really positive mindset.
“It will be difficult, 100 per cent, but nothing good comes from it being easy.”
And while Scott’s focus was squarely on Tokyo, the testing weekend may also have helped identify some talent for further down the line, with the 2024 Paris Games already beginning to loom large on the horizon in a shortened cycle.
“There were three or four youngsters who won’t be old enough for Tokyo, but they turned up and we got them on the tandems and they had a great time,” Scott said.
“We want them to stay in the sport now and test again, not for Tokyo but for Paris.
“The main objective was to find me a stoker but there were lots of other things happening in the background.”