The reigning Paralympic, double world and double Commonwealth champion Sophie Thornhill has today announced she is retiring from elite sport to focus on furthering her education.
Thornhill, aged 24 from Poynton, Manchester, joined the Great Britain Cycling Team in 2013 and began her domination of the tandem sprint and kilo events in 2014 where, at her debut world championships, she won double gold with tandem partner Rachel Draper (nee James). From there, Thornhill went on to win a further 13 world titles partnering with different tandem pilots, including Corrine Hall and Helen Scott.
It was her partnership with sprinter Scott that saw the duo enjoy Paralympic success in Rio 2016, where they won gold in the Tandem Kilo event and, thanks to their phenomenal athletic ability to sustain power, they also won the bronze in the tandem pursuit, which focuses on endurance rather than a short burst of speed. ‘Soph and Scottie’, as they are endearingly known to their team mates, have won all four of the gold medals available since pairing in the tandem racing at the Commonwealth Games, winning the tandem kilo and the tandem sprint at both Glasgow 2014 and Gold Coast 2018.
Speaking of her decision, Sophie said: “My plan was always to retire after Tokyo, 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 twelve 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.
“Sophie’s friendly and welcoming demeanour have made her a real asset to the team, and I’m full of admiration for her approach to overcoming the adversity of her condition which she does with humour, determination and resilience. This has allowed her to not only excel on the bike but has pushed the boundaries of her event beyond recognition.
“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. More information will be made available on the British Cycling website soon, or you can register your interest now by visiting this link: https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/TalentIDPara/”