Sophie Thornhill, the reigning Paralympic, double world and double Commonwealth champion, has announced her retirement from elite sport.
The Poynton-born rider, who was born with oculocutaneous albinism, a condition which affects pigmentation of the skin, hair, and eyes, joined British Cycling’s Olympic Development Programme as a 16 year-old and swiftly won world titles (and world records).
Initially piloted by Rachel James, sister of Olympic silver medallist Becky, Thornhill switched to Helen Scott in 2014. The pair went on to dominate the tandem sprint and tandem kilo disciplines together, winning multiple world, Commonwealth and Paralympic medals.
Thornhill, however, underwent surgery on her hip last year and in an interview with Telegraph Sport in January, just before this year’s Para-Cycling Track World Championships in Milton, Canada, she admitted that she felt like “a 23 year-old with the hip of a 90 year-old”.
She has now decided that with the 12-month postponement to Tokyo 2020, she would prefer to focus on her education. “My plan was always to retire after Tokyo,” Thornhill said in a statement. “So when the dates changed, I had a really difficult decision to make. After a lot of thought and support, I am ready to move onto the next chapter of my life and focus my energy on another of my passions. I am thrilled to say I will begin studying history at Manchester Metropolitan University in September.
“Cycling has been a huge part of my life for the last 12 years and has provided me with some of the biggest highlights in my life, including becoming Paralympic Champion in 2016 and setting world records at the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
“I have met and worked with amazing people along the journey, the most important of which is Scottie (pilot, Helen Scott). I cannot thank her enough for the amazing memories we have made together.
“I have also worked with the most amazing support team, many of whom have gone above and beyond for me and they have been unbelievable in their support. I’d like to thank everyone in the Great Britain Cycling Team for everything they have done for me and my career, and I’d like to wish them the absolute best of luck for Tokyo next year.”
Stephen Park, Performance Director for the Great Britain Cycling Team, said: “On behalf of everyone on the team, I would like to congratulate Sophie on an outstanding career and thank her for the contributions she has made not just to para-cycling but to para sport in general.
“Sophie can take pride in the fact that she was undeniably the best female tandem sprinter in the world for over six years, taking victories in differing track condition with different pilots.
“Off the bike, I’ve been impressed with the incredible maturity and composure Sophie shows, which has made her a valuable member of our Rider Representative Commission and over the years I have known her she has really found her voice which has helped with her passion for advancing para sport.
“Of course, with 432 days to go until the Tokyo Paralympic Games, Sophie’s departure means there is an opportunity for a blind or visually impaired rider to join the team and to train with Paralympic champion Helen Scott who is as keen as ever to retain her title in Tokyo.”