HM Insights

The Sammi Kinghorn blog - seeing your name (and face) up in lights

Samantha ‘Sammi’ Kinghorn is Scotland’s leading wheelchair racer and Harper Macleod’s Athlete Ambassador. Over the past few weeks she has rocketed into the headlines with some stunning performances which saw her break four European records, including two held for more than a decade by one of the sport's biggest ever names Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. Following all the excitement, we caught up with Sammi to find out how she's handling the increased attention, and the next step of her preparations for the Rio 2016 Paralympics.

Becoming the fastest ever European woman over four distances is something that doesn't happen very often – no matter how famous the athlete. Breaking two records held by a legend of the sport and seeing your own face staring back from the BBC Sport homepage (alongside Wayne Rooney and the usual football-dominated favourites) as a result must take even more getting used to – especially if you're a 20-year-old unaccustomed to the spotlight.

That was the situation Sammi Kinghorn found herself after a tremendous set of performances at the IPC Grand Prix in Nottwil, Switzerland, one of the biggest events of the season. Her coach, Ian Mirfin, was even sent a picture of Sammi adorning a giant video billboard in Germany.

One of her last big tests before the Rio Paralympics in September, Sammi  set four new records in the T53 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m, while racing against some of the world’s best. The 200m and 400m records had been held for 12 and 13 years respectively by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, but Sammi barely had time to take it all in before heading to the USA for another major event, where she lowered the 800m record even further.

A new face of parasport?

Sammi, Harper Macleod's Athlete Ambassador, said: "It's been pretty crazy. I'd been in airports and travelling so really hadn't seen too much of the reaction online. It was only when we were on the way to the US that my coach Ian said to me 'your BBC thing is doing really well' and I looked on Twitter and saw all the retweets and things. People were congratulating me and it was really nice to take a bit of time and have a look at it all.

"Tanni Grey-Thompson is one of the biggest figures in para sports in the UK. She is the person that everyone knows so to take those records was a little more special, I guess, and maybe people will recognise me a little bit more as a result. The records had been standing for a fair while and I've always had them as a target so it was great to break them, though I was really surprised when I did it in Switzerland.

"If people see my name and story on places such as the BBC and see the link to Tanni then it brings up the profile parasport in general, which is great because I want everyone to watch it. "It makes it a little more scary for me. I feel like people are starting to know who I am now and are watching for me, whereas before it was like 'oh, it will take her a few years to gain experience'. Now I've improved quite fast people will look at me more closely and see me as a bit of threat.

"The level of expectation can be quite daunting, but hopefully I can go to Rio, make my finals and be quite happy when I leave and not feel too much pressure. It's all positive, people are willing me to do well and that's all I can ask for. "

Record performances

For those who like statistics, Sammi's new bests are: 100m - 16.62 seconds; 200m (the event in which she won World Championship silver last year) - 29.48s; 400m - 55.47s; 800m - 1.53.40 (a time she reduced to 1.52.62 in the US).

She added: "The 100m record was set at the last World Championships by Hamide Kurt, the Turkish racer who I had beaten to European gold in 2014. I broke it in the first round in Switzerland and she raced straight after me and broke it again. We then raced against one another in the final and I managed to beat her and take the record back.

"The 800m was held by Catherine Debrunner, a Swiss athlete who set it last year in Switzerland. Again, she was in my race this year so that was nice - there's no question of you having the advantage of good conditions or a faster track. It's fair and square."

Over the past few years, Sammi has established herself as one of the world’s best wheelchair racers and is closing in on T53 rival Angela Ballard, the Australian who took gold in the events.

"It's pretty cool, though it hasn't really sunk in yet. Records are so different to winning medals. You can be the fastest person in the world but can still get beaten in a race. I'm getting closer to Angela – I'm just kind of following her around the world testing myself against her but I was really surprised that I was so close!"

Sammi's performances were all the more incredible as she had been in hospital just weeks before the event after an elbow injury led to blood poisoning.

She said: "I only came out a week before we had to head for Switzerland. I'd had two weeks off training and had missed the first two competitions in Britain so I literally had no idea what kind of shape I was in, which is unusual ahead of a major competition.

"When it first happened I was worried that I had really hurt my elbow because I couldn't put any weight on it. I just couldn't afford to have any time in a cast. I felt pretty horrible for a while so by the time I went to Switzerland  I thinking that, well, I had a good winter's training so we'll just have to wait and see. I was really chuffed. Maybe a little bit of rest was good for me."

Waiting for Rio

Sammi, who has already visited Brazil earlier this year as part of a Team GB party checking out the facilities ahead of the Games, will find out towards the end of July if she has been selected as part of Team GB for Rio.

There's no T53 200m in Rio, so the 100m, 400m and 800m will be her targets. For now, she's doing all she can to be in the best shape of her life if the call comes.

"To be eligible for selection you need to have times, which I have, and be in top six in the world – I'm currently number 2 so I'm sitting in a good position at the moment, although the Chinese athletes have still to be factored in and they are pretty fast," she said. "I'm ahead of where I thought I would have been at this stage, and a lot closer to the world record times so I'm excited to see how fast I can go.

"I'm going to go back into a 'winter training' schedule to peak again for Rio. I might do a couple of domestic competitions just to judge where things are but that will be it. Given what happened last month I might also wrap myself in cotton wool and keep my fingers crossed while living in a bubble!

Find out more

You can find out more about Harper Macleod and Sammi here.

You can see the short film we made with Sammi as she trained around her Borders home here.

You can also read a great interview with Sammi and her friend and fellow athlete Jo Butterfield here. The two started their journey together after meeting each other in hospital five years ago.

You can also follow Sammi on Twitter and Facebook