Stuart Weir wrote this piece on the problematic nature of the T34 100m. When one asks me what is the role of the modern sports journalist, I would suggest that they read this piece on Hannah Cockroft and Kare Adenagan. Stuart explains for our readers the challenges of the event and how the quality of the category is just beginning to catch up with the quality of the top athletes. Many people can describe a baseball game or a cricket match, few can get you inside the event. This is Stuart Weir’s world, and welcome to it.
An ongoing rivalry
Today saw the final of the T34 100m and the next stage of an ongoing rivalry. First of all the necessary explanation: The T34 classification is one of eight specifically for athletes with cerebral palsy, and one of four for athletes with cerebral palsy who use a wheelchair. The race illustrates what is good in what is problematic. The result of the 2019 final was:
1 Hannah Cockroft (GB)16.77
2 Kare Adenegan (GB)17.49
3 Alexa Halko (USA) 18.83
4 Amy Siemons (Netherlands) 19.47
5 Robyn Lambird (Australia) 19.73
6 Veronika Doronina (Russia) 19.97
7 Joyce Lefevre (Belgium) 20.14
Let’s get the problematic out in the open. This is yet another straight to final event. The bronze medallist finished over 2 seconds behind the winner and sixth place athlete over three seconds behind the winner in a 100m race.
2019 was Cockroft’s 11th World Championship gold medal in addition to five Paralympic gold medals. She was unbeaten in international competition for seven years. Her first medals were at 100m and 200m and then 400m. Only from 2015 were T34 women deemed to be capable of racing 800m. In 2017, when no one was looking, Hannah did a 1500m race – well someone was looking as her time was recognized as a world record!
Cockroft, speaking after winning the 2019 world title, said: “I think number 11 is probably the best yet. It was definitely the hardest to win. They mean more and more. Kare is the biggest rival I’ve ever had; she’s a fantastic athlete. It’s great that I’ve come out on top here, but you know that can switch around at any time. You’ve got to take the gold when you can and keep working hard. I really wanted to come and win the gold. I would have been happy with silver because I know Kare has been working hard and is strong and was the world record holder. I haven’t dipped below 17 seconds ever in my career, not even in training, so I have no idea where that came from, but I’m so pleased I did on race day”.
Kare Adenagan, silver medallist, contested her first world championships in 2015 aged 15, gaining two bronze medals. 2015-2017, she collected five world and three Paralympic medals, all behind Cockroft. Then in 2018, aged 17, Adenegan broke the T34, women’s 100 metres world record at the London Muller Anniversary Diamond League defeating Hannah Cockroft by half a second, with a time of 16:80 seconds making her the first T34 athlete to have gone under 17 seconds in the history of the sport. Later that year she again beat Cockroft to become European Champion. After finishing second in Dubai, Adenegan said: “It’s a season’s best, so I’m happy about that. The silver means a lot. I’ve had a really long year so I wasn’t sure what kind of form I would come into the world championships with, but the fact I’ve done a season’s best shows I’m improving and getting back to the shape I need to be in. You learn with every experience. I’ve got a few technical things I need to work on but I’ve got a whole winter now to focus on those things before Tokyo”. A student of History and Philosophy, Adenegan, who was writing an essay on Plato this week, told me that Plato believed that reflecting on life helped one to flourish. Not often that one gets a bit of Planonic wisdom in a post-race interview.
Come 2019, Cockroft regained her crown and her world record. She is a magnificent athlete. Her record speaks for itself and achievements make her a legend of the sport. Adenegan, still only 18, has the best years of her career ahead of her. My following comments do not take anything away from their excellence.
However, we are left with the issue of the lack of depth in the event, evidenced by the absence of prelims, the gap in quality of the finalists in terms of the spectrum of times, the fact that Cockroft were largely unchallenged for 7 years and then her rival was a 17 year-old.