In Conversation with……Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth T38 Sprint Champion Sophie Hahn

Last week we welcomed an Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth sprint champion for our latest #NHEHSInConversationWith discussion! T38 champion para athlete Sophie Hahn inspired us all with her story and the fact that she has achieved so much by the age of just 23! We also discovered that Sophie and Miss Nicholas had the same sprint coach for a while!

Sophie introduced herself to us before taking questions from the girls.

“I can remember watching the athletics at the London 2012 Olympics nearly every day and feeling really inspired by so many athletes, including Johnny Peacock, Hannah Cockroft, Richard Whitehead and Jess Ennis. After the Olympics there was a talent ID advertisement as they were looking for athletes for the future. My older brother Jamie suggested I put myself forward as he knew I was pretty quick. I was a bit shy at putting myself forward but after the session I got invited to Loughborough University where I met Joe King, the talent ID spotter and did 4 x 60m. Joe saw what I could do and said “I think I’ve found a talent here!”

My times got sent to the GB Head Coach who organised for me to go to Berlin to get internationally classified to be allowed to compete abroad. You have to be classified as a paralympic athlete in a category – I’ve had cerebral palsy from birth and I couldn’t walk until I was age 3 or 4. I was classified as T38, which is the highest level of impairment.

I then got a call to say I had been picked for the GB team for the Lyon World Championships in 2013! I had gone from watching the 2012 Olympics on TV to Talent ID, a bit of training and then going to the world championships. I was only 16. I was nervous as I had never been away from home before. I had to go to the holding camp two weeks prior to the competition too. In the competition itself, I was competing against people who I had watched run in the 2012 Olympics. In the 100m, I had a standing start while everyone else used their blocks, but I ran a world record of 13.1! My life totally changed after that. I had to learn to look after myself as an elite athlete. I got to learn that the harder you work in winter in training, the better the results will come in the summer.

I have now represented GB for 8 years. My proudest moment was achieving the ‘slam’ of competitions – World champion, Olympic champion, European champion and finally Commonwealth champion in 2018 in Australia.  Until 2018 I had not had any sponsorship deals but I got my first sponsorship that year as I got signed by Nike for two years. They have been an awesome sponsor – they send me great kit and I have met lots of other Nike athletes. I went to New York for a photo shoot for the new Nike elite race kit for 2020 and I met Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Dina Asher-Smith!”

Then Sophie kindly took our questions on a wide range of topics! 

Question from Jasmine: Were you ever told you couldn’t do something because you had cerebral palsy?

Answer from Sophie: “I was quite determined as a child. My parents were very supportive too – if you get knocked down, you just get back up again and try again. Having two brothers definitely made me stronger as a person too!

Question from Alex: How did you find balancing school work and training?

A: “It’s amazing to be full time athlete but you need a backup plan. After the 2016 Olympics in Rio, I went back to college to study at Loughborough College to do sport and leisure, which I am still doing now. My college are really supportive and I do a lot from home. I’m lucky as I can do both my training and my studying. “

Question from Tasha: How are you managing to train during the lockdown?

A: “The track and gym are closed so it’s really hard. But I can talk to my coach and I have a rugby pitch near me so I can run there to maintain my fitness. It’s tough not being able to train on a track though!”

Question from Amira: What’s your motivation to win?

A: “I just love what I do. I’m so lucky and I get to meet some amazing people in athletics. I want to be the best I can be, both on and off the track. So that’s my motivation for keeping going.“

Question from Miss Nicholas:  What is a typical week like for you?

A: “I train five times a week, with Thursdays and Sundays off. On Mondays and Wednesdays I have double sessions, so track in the morning and weight sessions at the gym. In the winter we do heavier weights and more volume of weights to try to build as much muscle mass as you can, while in the summer there’s less volume on the weights and more track focus, like block work. Having cerebral palsy I see a physio before every session for my tight hip – I find maintaining balance is hard, especially single leg hops.”

Question from Jasmine: How do you deal with the pressure as world record holder, especially if you don’t perform as people expect?

A: “I normally get quite nervous the night before the race. But it’s all about how hard you work in the winter and looking after yourself (nutrition, sleep etc) and listening to your coach – this is what helps you get faster. I didn’t realise how important nutrition was when I was younger!”

Question from Amira: What are your goals for the future?

A: “Tokyo 2021 – the Paralympics are a life changer! I’d love to be a double para champion. All the athletes will be working incredibly hard to make it a fantastic games next year. “

Question from Mrs Bennett: Who are your sports heroes/heroines now?

A: “At the 2012 London Olympics I was inspired to take up running by watching athletics every day on TV, including Jess Ennis and Hannah Cockroft. I also look up to boxer Anthony Joshua, sprinter Allyson Felix, tennis player Serena Williams. Hannah is now one of my closest friends the team. Your teammates are friends for life.”

Question from Miss Nicholas: The visibility of parasport has increased massively over the last few years. Where do you see it going during your athletics career?

A: “London 2012 was such a great example to inspire a generation. Following it, Rio was also big and each Paralympics is getting bigger and bigger, with Tokyo, Paris and LA. I was lucky to be invited to the Diamond League Anniversary Games in London in 2018 and 2019, where able bodied and parathletes competed in front of a packed stadium. It was great to be part of the same meet. At the Commonwealth Games in 2018 on the Gold Coast, both teams were together as one team – it was brilliant.”

Question from Tasha: What was your biggest setback?

A: “I’ve been lucky not to have any injuries. It’s hard being number one in your event sometimes as people want to knock you down, but you can get through it with family and friends around you who can support you as you train hard.”

Question: What is your favourite distance?

A: “I’ve always loved shorter distances – I can remember loving 100m at sports day. 100m is still my favourite (vs. 200m).”

Question from Miss Newman: Do you have a pre-race routine or superstitions?

A: “Normally the night before a race I am quite nervous. Getting an early night and enough sleep is important. I try to have a good breakfast, lunch and dinner too. I usually like to get to the track an hour before the race to warm up. At the warm up I like to relax and chill out with listening to my music. I don’t have a particular playlist – just something to block out the noise on the track.”  

Question from Jasmine: You set a world record for 100m at a young age – are you worried that you peaked really young?

A: “A few younger girls are catching me up in my category – aged 18 and 20. But they just spur me on to train even harder. I do lose sometimes though.

In 2014 Margarita Goncharova broke my world record. I really wanted to get it back so I trained even harder and 24 hours later I got my world record back!”

Questions from Miss Nicholas: Are drugs in para sport discussed much?

A: “I just worry about myself and my own performances and not about anyone else. You have to put a time slot in on the ‘Whereabouts’ system so that the drugs testers can come and test me. When I first started running when I was 16 I had to get my nutritionist to check the ingredients in any medicines/recovery drinks to make sure they were OK. Now if I get a cold, I can’t take the normal Night or Day Nurse – I have to get an alternative one from the doctor.”

Does your family get to come to your events?

A: “My parents always drove me to all my training sessions as I only learned to drive recently. If it hadn’t been for my brother recommending me to the talent ID programme, I probably wouldn’t be here now! So I owe a lot to my family for supporting me so much in my running.”

 

A huge thank you to Sophie for talking to us. Girls from Year 7 up to the sixth form really enjoyed listening to you talk about your journey, passion and drive for athletics. Good luck for Tokyo next year – we will be looking out for you!

 

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