A trio of wheelchair marathon successes on the final day of the Commonwealth Games
There were a trio of marathon successes on the final day of the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
John Smith (Weir Archer Academy, Jenny Archer) and Simon Lawson (Carlisle Tri, Ian Thompson) claimed silver and bronze respectively in the men’s race whilst Jade Jones-Hall (New Markse, Thompson) put her name in the record books as she won a bronze medal in the women’s equivalent, just over a week after winning gold in the para-triathlon.
Smith and Lawson were embroiled in a race long battle with Canada’s Tristan Smyth after Australia’s Kurt Fearnley charged away within the opening five minutes of the race, not to be seen again as he took a memorable victory on home ground.
However, Smith and Lawson battled hard, exchanging the lead with the Canadian from the gun. With Lawson doing much of the work at the front in searing heat, it was poised to be a frantic sprint for the line.
As they came around the corner into the finishing straight, all three competitors had a shot at a spot on the podium but it was the English pair who edged ahead to seal the medals.
On his first major medal, Smith – who recorded a season best of 1:31.44 – commented:
“Kurt went off straight from the front so it was essentially a three-man race all along. It was a really good race; everyone pushed hard. But I’ve never competed in conditions like this. I’ve competed all around the world and I’ve never been so hot, it was intense so it made it hard. I don’t know if I made it look easy but I found it tough.
“Simon is a good friend of mine; we’ve know each other for a while so I’m pleased he also won a medal. We are 50/50 in terms of rankings and times. But I’ve been working on my weaknesses; my sprint finish, breaks, turns, flat straights, I’ve worked hard with my team to do everything to give me the best chance. I’ve put in 1400 miles since last July so I’ve put everything into that 26 miles to come away with a result so I’m very happy with the silver medal.”
Lawson – also making the podium at the Games for the first time – was equally delighted to earn Commonwealth success in the challenging conditions, crossing line in the same time as his teammate.
He said: “I struggled a bit early on, the first couple of miles were tough but I eventually got my breath back. Kurt got away so I tried to go with him but it wasn’t possible.
“We ran out of a bit of room near the end but two English athletes getting silver and bronze is amazing. I’m happy with that; it’s my first major medal.”
Callum Hall (Leeds City, Thompson) was pleased with his seventh-place finish in a time of 1:37.36 at his first ever Commonwealth Games. The 25-year-old found the race “brutal” but he was happy with his progress at what were a “development Games” for him.
Jade Jones-Hall earned a remarkable bronze medal in the women’s T54 marathon, adding to her gold medal success in the para-triathlon at the start of the Games.
Jones-Hall was patient, sitting within the leading four athletes including Australian duo Madison de Rozario and Eliza Alut-Connell as well as Scotland’s Sammi Kinghorn. She surged to the front a couple of times but stayed in touch when needed to conserve energy for the final few miles.
With a mile or so to go, the Australian’s pulled away from the group, ultimately de Rozario claiming yet another home gold to add to the medal tally. However, Jones-Hall moved clear of her Scottish opponent to bag the bronze, adding to her medal of the same colour from Glasgow, then in the 1500m.
Jones-Hall – who clocked a time of 1:44.20, just 20 seconds off the winner - spoke afterwards:
“I'm really shattered now, but it was a great race. It's a nice flat course that suits me pretty well, so I'm really happy with it. It's tough conditions and by the end of the race it was getting pretty hot, so I'm so glad we started as early as we did. The support on the course was amazing and it definitely takes the pain away.
Upon being asked whether she thought she’d win two medals in two sports this week, she added:
“I'd never have believed them, to be honest. I knew I could do well in the triathlon and that was where all my training was focused towards. I didn't think I could win, but I knew I could do well. To come away with the gold in that and then the bronze here is just amazing. It was easily the best marathon I've ever done in my life. I think it was actually a personal best as well, so I'm really happy with it.
“I had a couple of days that were a bit easier after the triathlon, as it's pretty hard for me as I have to do it as a time trial because of the factoring. It was pretty hard to recover and took me a bit longer than I thought it was going to. Once I was over that, I trained together with my teammate Nikki over the last few days and that's been really good. The guys as well have been great.”
Nikki Emerson (BWAA, Ian Thompson) was delighted with a five-minute personal best – 1:50.13 – as she crossed the line for sixth place.
In hot and humid conditions, Sonia Samuels (Sale Harriers Manchester) took fifth place in the women’s marathon, while Alyson Dixon (Sunderland Strollers) was sixth.
From the start, both Team England athletes joined a group of seven runners, which included Australian pair Jessica Trengove and Lisa Weightman, as well as Kenya’s Sheila Jerotich and Namibia’s Helalia Johannes, taking a sedate pace fort the opening 15 kilometres.
By 20 kilometres, a second Namibian, Lavinia Haitope had been dropped and the pack was down to six, moving through half way in 1:17:31 and it was at that point that both Samuels and Dixon started to fall back, as Jerotich and Trengove pushed the pace, with Johannes eventually surging clear in the final kilometres to take the gold in 2:32:40.
Samuels clocked a time of 2:36:59 and reflected on a difficult race.
“Right now, I feel a bit disappointed, because I thought that if I ran my best race I could challenge for a medal,” she said. “I wasn't far away. The Kenyan was coming back to me, but not quick enough.”
“I've got a lot of respect for the conditions and the marathon distance, so maybe I didn't cover the moves quickly enough.”
“I feel super strong. I know a lot of people make a big deal out of my age as I'm 38, but you know what, I love getting out there and I love hurting myself and as long as I want to do that, I'll keep racing.”
Dixon, meanwhile, finished in a time of 2:38:19 and was relatively happy with a battling performance.
“I feel beat up. It was a tough day,” she confirmed. “Considering five weeks ago I was just about to take the decision that I wasn't coming, just to get to the start line was a challenge in itself. I knew that if I got to the start line, then I would finish. I'd have had to stop breathing not to finish. After Glasgow [where she did not finish], it's all that I've wanted and I've put that to rest.”
Team England end the athletics programme with 17 medals overall – 5 gold, 5 silver and 7 bronze.