Strictly Come Dancing is back, with a new batch of celebrities donning their dancing shoes and competing for the coveted Glitterball Trophy.
Among the stars competing this year is Jody Cundy CBE, a champion athlete who has represented Great Britain at seven Summer Paralympics. He’s won a total of eight gold, one silver and three bronze medals, across swimming and cycling events, and can also take pride in his 23 world titles earnt at the World Championships.
His most recent win transpired in August (just a few days before he was announced as a Strictly contestant), after he set a new world record in the 200m time trial at the men’s C4 omnium in Glasgow.
Being no stranger to competitive sports, Cundy spoke of his excitement and being ready to “throw myself headfirst into the world of ballroom dancing”.
“[It’s] so far away from what I’m used to, but I’m looking forward to the challenge and pushing myself way out of my comfort zone, especially as I’m always last onto the dance floor.”
He added: “Can’t wait to get stuck in, bring on the glitter and sequins!”
Cundy, 44, was born the eldest of two sons in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, to Alan and Ann, a welder and accountancy clerk. He was born with a deformed foot, which was amputated when he was three.
While he’s now known as a swimming champion, Cundy’s career was almost cut short at a young age, after he leapt into a pool aged five and almost drowned. He was rescued by another child’s parent, who jumped in fully-clothed to save him. The incident caused his mother to insist he join a club and learn how to swim properly.
Cundy was then introduced to competitive swimming when he was 10 years old, and was soon breaking records among his age group. According to the official Paralympics website, Cundy made his international debut at the IPC Swimming World Championships in Malta, in 1994, and won gold in the 100m butterfly S10.
Two years later, Cundy won another gold medal at his first Paralympic Games in Atlanta, defending the title in Sydney 2000 and earning another gold medal in the 4x100m freestyle relay S10.
After picking up a bronze medal in Athens, Cundy decided to switch sports after impressing staff during a test at the velodrome in Newport, making his major international debut at the 2006 Track World Championships in Aigle, Switzerland. His win in the C4 kilo would make the first of 12 world titles on the track over the next decade.
The sports star beat yet another world record in 2008, while representing Team GB at the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, making him one of just a few athletes to become champions in two different sports: swimming and cycling.
In 2012, Cundy was the subject of controversy after he was disqualified from the C4/5 1km time trial at the Paralympics in London, after calling for a restart when he believed the starting gate did not open properly.
After realising he would not be permitted to restart, Cundy, in his own words, “lost it” and exploded into an expletive-filled rant, during which he raged at officials, hurled a water bottle to the ground, and had to be restrained by a team mechanic after advancing towards the commissaire who disqualified him.
“I fell out of the gate because the f***ing thing won't open. Yet here I am, I can't ride. Everybody else gets the f***ing re-ride,” he said, while British officials tried to calm him.
Fighting back tears, Cundy roared: “Do you know what it’s like to work so hard for four years for a one-minute-three-second race in front of 6,000 people and then not be allowed to ride the race? I’m never going to have the opportunity again.”
His girlfriend, a press photographer, was also seen crying trackside. Cundy later returned to apologise to the crowd and received a huge round of applause.
Louis Barbeau, the technical delegate of the International Cycling Union, dismissed Cundy and his coach Chris Furmer’s argument that the gate had not opened properly due to a mechanical error. He said that, instead, Cundy’s wheel must have slipped because he was putting too much pressure on the front wheel.
Cundy set a new world record at the 2016 Summer Paralympics, and won another gold medal in the Mixed Team Spring C1-5 with Louis Rolfe and Jon Allan-Butterworth. In 2020, he won silver at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in the C4-5 1km time trial, then a gold medal with Kadeena Cox and Jaco van Gass in the C105 mixed 750 team sprint.
“When you are on the track it is you against the clock,” he told The Independent in a 2012 interview. “Day in day out you push yourself to the absolute limit, constantly redefining what your body can do.”
He was appointed Member of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2009 New Year Honours for services to disabled sport, and Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2017 New York Honours, for services to cycling and swimming. Last year, he was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), for services to cycling.