Is Sophie Hahn one of the greatest British athletes this era?


(Image Credit: British Athletics)

Paralympic champion. Five-time European champion. Seven-time World champion.

Throw in a Commonwealth title, a Paralympic silver medal and two world records and it’s easy to see why we’re asking if Sophie Hahn is one of the greatest British athletes of this era.

The list doesn’t end there. Following yet another double gold at the 2019 World Para-athletics Championships in Dubai this week, Hahn holds the Paralympic, World, European and Commonwealth titles, a feat no other British woman has achieved.

She also hasn’t lost an individual T38 race since finishing second in the 2016 European Championship 200m final.

Hahn has certainly come a long way since being introduced to Charnwood Athletic Club by her brother after being inspired by London 2012.

A year later she was a world champion, breaking the 100m world record on her way to winning gold having claimed 200m silver the day before.

It was her first major competition. She was 16. She had yet to even learn how to use starting blocks.

A star had well and truly been born.

Of course statistics don’t solely determine how good an athlete is; there are many other factors.

One key example is the ability to capture the public’s imagination. It doesn’t mater how successful you are, if the fans aren’t on your side it can be very difficult to be remembered as one of the greats.

This is largely achieved through a combination of the way in which titles are won and the personality exhibited along the way.

Usain Bolt did both brilliantly. Not only was he unrivalled in terms of his outright success, he won in style. He would decimate fields of extremely talented athletes and make it look like child’s play.

What’s more, he never failed to turn up for the biggest occasions. He broke the 100m and 200m world records in Olympic and World finals.

Furthermore he was a showman. The celebrations, the media interviews, the playful interactions with volunteers before races – all endeared us to him.

On the track, Hahn certainly matches Bolt. She is in a class of her own, dominates each race she’s involved in and continues to record the fastest times ever seen, particularly in finals.

And while she man not exhibit the same gregarious personality as the Jamaican, Hahn is immediately likeable off the track. Quiet but polite, interesting and very mature for her age, she never fails to come across well in interviews.

It was the latter point that really stood out when things became rather difficult for her in late 2017.

Having stormed to double gold at the World Para-athletics Championships in London a few weeks earlier, Hahn unwittingly found herself dominating the back – and some front – pages for the wrong reasons.

This was because Michael Breen – father of fellow British T38 athlete Olivia Breen – claimed she had abused the classification system.

He was of the belief that Hahn – who has cerebral palsy – had been wrongly classified, did not have the required disability to compete in the same events as his daughter and was therefore at an unfair competitive advantage.

The issue of classification in para-sports is a very complex one and has led to several issues in recent years, one of which we previously wrote about after two-time Paralympic champion archer Danielle Brown’s career was halted overnight after being told she had failed re-classification tests.

In short, she was told she was not disabled enough to continue competing.

But rather than coming out all guns blazing to defend herself, Hahn kept her head down, got on with her training and said all she needed to say in court. She was found to have been correctly classified.

Of course such is her domination of the T38 sprints that some of you reading this may think Hahn is in the wrong class. Alternatively it could also ask the question about the level of competition she is up against.

This is an issue that is often raised with para-sport; ultimately many events are still in their embryonic stages and that means there aren’t the numbers of competitors you may see in able-bodied events.

But as an athlete all you can do is beat what’s in front of you and that’s exactly what Hahn has done.

Harking back to the Bolt analogy, another thing that made him so good was how he continually saw off a plethora of sprinters desperate to take his crown.

Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake, Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay were just a handful of immensely talented runners who tried to overcome him but every time they threw anything at him, he would have an answer.

 

It’s similar with Hahn. Many have tried to match her but only Margarita Goncharova has ever come close, with the two sharing titles early on in Hahn’s career.

But the Russian’s form has dipped in the shorter sprints as she’s focused on the 400m and as a result Hahn hasn’t been challenged since 2016.

However the emergence of Hungarian athlete Luca Ekler and Australian teenager Rhiannon Clark in Dubai is certainly an enticing one and it will be interesting to see how Hahn responds to their threat.

So, to answer our original question: Is Sophie Hahn one of the greatest modern British athletes?

To be honest, it’s too early to tell. She is still only 22.

But if she continues to win gold medals and break world records in style while fighting off any potential challengers, she certainly will be remembered as one of the finest athletes this country has ever seen.

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