WHEN Sammi Kinghorn made her Paralympics debut in 2016, she was a fresh-faced kid barely out of her teens.

She had only relatively recently taken up wheelchair racing and had been thrust into the spotlight in a way she could never have previously imagined.

Despite the overwhelming nature of the situation, she reached two finals in Brazil but it was, she now realises, too much, too soon.

Tokyo 2020 may be only one Olympic cycle on from Rio but Kinghorn could not have a more different outlook these days from the Paralympic rookie she was five years ago.

The 25-year-old heads to Tokyo as a two-time world champion and a world record holder and, Kinghorn admits, her mentality ahead of her second Paralympic appearance could not be further from where her head was five years ago.

“I’ve never been an overly confident person and then I got thrust into the spotlight when I was still pretty young. I think that lack of confidence maybe comes from not really doing sport when I was younger and then, when I went to Rio, it was very, very overwhelming.

“I loved the experience of Rio but, mentally, I just wasn’t ready,” she says. “Now, though, I feel so much more prepared and I’m so much more experienced.

“In Rio, I hadn’t been in the sport all that long and I just felt really lucky to be there whereas, now, I’ve worked so hard and I feel like I’ve really earned it. I have more confidence now and it makes such a massive difference to have that belief that you deserve to be there.”

Kinghorn is one of nine Scots in the athletics squad heading to Japan and has a packed schedule when the Games begin on the August 24, racing in the T53 100m, 400m and 800m, as well as the 4x100m universal relay.

Having won two sprint world titles in 2017, the same year she set her world record in the 200m, Kinghorn knows a first Paralympic medal is well within her capabilities. However, the Borders native is also mindful that she must not get ahead of herself, particularly when the races are going to come thick and fast in Tokyo.

She begins her campaign with the 100m in the early hours of the first Sunday of the Games and, having posted some impressive times so far this season, is quietly confident of what may lie ahead.

“I’m happy with where I am, I feel more like my 2017 self again which is really nice.

I’ve got a stacked schedule in Tokyo with heats in the mornings and finals in the evenings and it’ll be tough, especially in the heat, but I feel ready and I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited to see what I’ve got,” she says.

“I’m going there to fight for a medal – mainly in the 100m and 400m because, in the 800m, I’m not sure I’ve quite got the endurance of some of the other girls.

“It’s so hard to predict though – it’s one thing winning a medal at the World Championships but at the Paralympics, people bring something different. People are in the form of their lives and this is what everyone has been targeting. I’ve not got a Paralympic medal and so to win one would be amazing.”

Kinghorn is one of the highest-profile Scots heading to the Paralympics and that, coupled with her previous achievements, means she will have considerable pressure to contend with.

That burden has, in the past, weighed heavily upon her but these days she is, she believes, suitably equipped to deal with the expectation that comes with success.

“Pressure comes from everywhere – but you just have to learn to cope with it,” she says. “And I do worry about what people think – I want to please people and I don’t want to let people down by not doing what they expect me to do or think I can do.”

The nerves are, of course, still there. But Kinghorn heads to Tokyo secure in the knowledge that regardless of whether she ends up on the podium or not, if she leaves the track having given everything, there is no more she can ask for.

“I know what I can achieve and I know the times I can do so it’s about focusing on that,” she says. “If I do a PB but come fourth, well, what more could I have done? But if I win silver and am half a second off my PB I’ll be like, ‘For goodness sake, that’s not fast enough’.

“You get to the point where it’s just a constant battle against your times. But over lockdown, I gave myself the absolute best opportunity to make the most of a difficult situation. I was able to still do a lot of good training and so I feel like I’m in a good place.”