Sarah Storey should be accustomed to gold medals and world records by now but the Paralympic superstar admitted even she was taken by surprise after a dominant display to retain her C5 3000m individual pursuit title in Tokyo on Wednesday.
In a repeat of the all-British Rio 2016 final, Storey once more got the better of Great Britain teammate Crystal Lane-Wright to take gold, smashing her own world record in the process and increasing her Paralympic gold medal tally to 15.
The relentless defending champion laid down a marker earlier on day one of Tokyo 2020 by shaving more than four seconds of her own world record in qualifying, powering over the line in 3:27.057.
She did not need to repeat the trick in the deciding race at the Izu Velodrome as she remarkably caught Lane-Wright inside eight laps following a rapid start, leaving her rival to settle for another silver.
In winning her country’s first gold of the Games, Storey took her total haul to 15 Paralympic golds – one short of swimmer Mike Kenny’s British record – and a phenomenal 26 medals overall.
The 43-year-old, who won five golds in swimming - two at Barcelona 1992 and three in Atlanta four years later - before switching to cycling in 2005, will have a chance to surpass Kenny next week when she attempts to defend her C5 time trial and C4-5 road race crowns.
"It's quite overwhelming," she said. "I don't know if it will sink in until I get home. I came here with a really solid plan of what I wanted to do and I've delivered it, so it kind of blows your mind a bit.
"I talked before about breaking your personal best, in my case a world record, a small margin at a time. And I just knocked 4.3 seconds off.
"I've done so much training, and everyone's been reminding me how much work I've done and how I deserve to be that fast, but you don't like to presume. So it took me by surprise, but a good surprise.
"I think about one race at a time and maybe I'll think about these things afterwards. But it does feel pretty surreal."
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Storey arrived in Japan having not performed competitively on the track since January 2020 but in confident mood.
She was also without the support bubble of husband and fellow track cyclist Barney, eight-year-old daughter Louisa, who travelled to Rio five years ago, and three-year-old son Charlie.
Yet there were no signs of rustiness or adverse effects in the heats as a superb ride underlined her class and sent an ominous warning to her rivals.
"I knew I had it in me to go sub 3.30," said Storey, who was born without a fully functioning left hand. "It's been a target of mine since I went 3.32 at the London Games. I knew I just needed the right day and the right preparation.
"It's been an incredibly difficult preparation for these Games because it's so different to what I'm used to. I just had to call on all my experience for staying calm under the pressure and I'm just glad it's paid off.
"It's fantastic to see the event getting faster, and I just need to keep getting faster as well. So I just had to keep a cool head."
Lane-Wright had finished more than eight seconds adrift of that record-breaking time during her initial 12 laps – a personal record of 3:35.061 – and would have needed to have pulled of a major shock to close the gap in the medal race. It never looked likely to materialise.
Storey flew out of the blocks and mercilessly chased down her teammate to secure another spot at the top of the podium and, in the process, take a major step to further cementing her place in the history books.
French rider Marie Patouillet clinched bronze after beating New Zealander Nicole Murray.
Despite never threatening gold, Lane-Wright was satisfied with her day’s work.
“As much as I’m up against Sarah, it’s me versus me all the time,” she told Channel 4. “To get such a big PB this morning, to me that’s my gold medal. I can only control what I can do, so I am so pleased for today.
“If there’s one person that watches this and thinks, ‘I can do it’ and I inspire them, that’s more than any medal, any race I have ever done.
“Paralympic sport is still really in its infancy and it’s a hard job, but it’s the best job I’ve ever had and I absolutely love it, so please be inspired.”