Born with oculocutaneous albinism, Thornhill attended Poynton High School, the same school as fellow para-cycling world champion Dame Sarah Storey, and was encouraged to try the sport by another champion, visually impaired British para-cyclist Anthony Kappes, a friend of her uncle’s.
She joined the Great Britain Cycling Team in 2013 and was initially partnered by Helen Scott, with whom she won three events at the British Cycling National Track Championships, before pairing with Rachel James, sister of world champion Becky, later in the year.
That pairing won two golds on their debut, at the Newport Para-cycling International and this early promise was fulfilled in Aguscalientes in April 2014 when the duo won double gold at Thornhill’s debut UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, setting a world record of 1:05.912 in the kilo and a world record of 10.854 for the 200-metre qualifying run of a sprint competition in which they beat Australian pair Brandie O’Connor and Breanna Hargrave 2-0 in the final.
Commonwealth Games double gold
With para-cycling in the Commonwealth Games for the first time in Glasgow 2014, 18-year-old Thornhill was able to take her place as the youngest track cycling rider in the England team and, with James competing for Wales, was re-united with Scott. Victory over Scottish pair Aileen McGlynn and Louise Haston brought gold in the sprint, to add to gold in the kilo.
Later in the year, and riding with James once more, Thornhill won the mixed time trial and 200m flying start time trial for blind and visually impaired athletes at the British National Track Championships before re-joining Scott for the 2015 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Apeldoorn. The outcome was familiar as Thornhill retained her world titles in the kilo and sprint.
World Championships setback
The size of the task Thornhill would face at the Rio Paralympics was apparent at the 2016 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Montichiari, Italy, when her two-year domination of the kilo and sprint competitions came to an end.
In the kilo, Thornhill and Scott set a new personal best time of 1:07.483 but were edged into the silver medal by a brilliant ride from Dutch pair Larissa Klaasen and Haleigh Dolman.
In the sprint, the British pair qualified as second fastest in the morning and easily reached the final but were beaten 2-0 by the Australians Jessica Gallagher and Madison Janssen.
Moving on to Rio, Thornhill and Scott were in superb form, setting a new Paralympic record of 1:06.283 to become Paralympic champions in the kilo time trial. Two days later, in the 3000m individual pursuit, the pair won bronze for their second medal of the Games, finishing behind gold medalists Lora Turnham and Corinne Hall from Great Britain.
|UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, Montichiari (Italy)||Kilo||Silver|
|UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, Montichiari (Italy)||Sprint||Silver|
|Paralympic Games, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)||Kilo||Gold|
|Paralympic Games, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)||Pursuit||Bronze|
|UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, Apeldoorn (Holland)||Kilo||Gold|
|UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, Apeldoorn (Holland)||Sprint||Gold|
|Commonwealth Games, Glasgow (UK)||Kilo||Gold|
|Commonwealth Games, Glasgow (UK)||Sprint||Gold|
|UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, Aguascalientes (Mexico)||Kilo||Gold|
|UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, Aguascalientes (Mexico)||Sprint||Gold|