In a perfect 30 minutes, England’s sprinters won two gold medals and, on the way, set a European record, defended a Paralympic title, just missed the world record and with three women in one final, flagged up Team GB’s gold medal intentions for the 4x100m relay later in the week. It literally couldn’t get any better than this.
Understandably, all eyes were on Sophie Hahn (Charnwood, Leon Baptiste) after she produced a textbook run in the semi-finals of the T38 women’s 100m (athletes with coordination impairment). Starting fast, she moved through the phases to run out as comfortable winner, equalling her own world record of 12.38 in the process, more than 0.2sec faster than any other qualifier.
However, the final proved to be a much tighter affair, with Columbia’s Darian Jiminez-Sanchez pushing her all the way to the line. “I felt pressure from the Colombian athlete,” Sophie confirmed. “She ran really well and was on my heels. I had to stay calm and relaxed to make sure I was the one who crossed the line first. We should have some exciting races over the next few years,” she added, relieved that she has defended her title with a 12.43 clocking. “It was nice to equal the world record in the morning, but the gold was more important, so I’m really happy.” She has a remarkable record now, winning two Paralympic golds, four world titles, one Commonwealth Games gold not to mention the European crown – and that’s just over 100m. There’s a set of 200s and relay titles to add to that total as well.
Two other English athletes also made the final, finishing sixth and eighth, amazing performances given the 100m isn’t either athlete’s main event. “When I got through to the final, I celebrated as though I’d won it,” laughed 400m runner eighth placer Ali Smith (Guildford & Godalming, Benke Blomkvist), while Olivia Breen in sixth (City of Portsmouth, Aston Moore) is looking forward to Tuesday and her main event, the long jump.
“And don’t forget, we should have a good relay,” added Hahn
In the men’s race, Thomas Young (Charnwood, Joseph McDonnell) dipped inside 11 seconds for the first time in the men’s T38 100m – a European record – to secure a surprise gold from the much-fancied Dening Zhu from China. Young started well enough, just a stride down on Zhu and by 60 metres there was only one winner as the Charnwood athlete accelerated away for a 10.94 win.
True, he’s the European champion but this was very much a surprise for the Croydon-born runner. So much so even he couldn’t quite believe he’d won despite the clear daylight between him and the two other medallists.
“I came here with one thing to do, and that was to win. To go sub-11 seconds for the first time is just an extra bonus. To be in a Paralympic final against the world’s best athletes is amazing but to win a gold medal is something I’m struggling to describe,” he said, visibly stunned by it all.
“Me and my coach have worked so hard over the past 18 months through the pandemic to get everything right today for the big one. This is the best feeling in the world. Ever since I started running in 2013 following the London Paralympic Games, I’ve dreamt of this. It was about coming here and winning. I remember where I came from. I started running as a hobby and I’ve had great support from my coach (Joe McDonnell) and my parents, so I’ve progressed from there. I’ve had some great support from the world class programme which has allowed me to become an elite athlete.
“I’m hoping to win them all (Paralympic titles) until Brisbane (2032). That’s the dream, that’s what I target.”
For much of the T13 (vision impaired athletes) 5000m David Devine (Liverpool H, Anthony Clarke) looked as if he could grab a bronze medal, but the humid, hot conditions got the better of him and he wound up a frustrated fourth in 14:38.00. “I was hearing from the commentators that we were doing outside 15-minute pace – I’ve run 14:15 this year so I knew I was well within my comfort zone. The plan was always to hit the front with two laps to go but with 300m to go, I just didn’t have enough in my legs. It was so hot out there – which is the same for everyone,” he said
“The initial feeling is disappointment, but I’m really proud of myself to get back to this level [after injury and illness] and be challenging for medals.
“I’m 100% confident that next year I’ll be a bit better, and the year after I will be, and hopefully I’ll get to Paris injury free. I’ve definitely got plenty to improve upon so I’m looking forward to the next few years.”
Also occupying that frustrating position just outside the medals was Stef Reid (Charnwood, Aston Moore) who was, given she’s broken the world record five times, an outside shot for the gold going into Tokyo. In the end, she had to make do with 5.75 in the women’s T64 long jump (athletes with a leg amputation). “Fourth is new to me, it is so hard to describe. That is actually the best I have ever jumped – my best series. Coming fourth is kind of bittersweet. But I’m so proud of turning my season around. It was a massive season’s best for me,” she said. “There was a stage during this season where I wasn’t sure I would make this team – jumping 5.10s, 5.20s. So, I’m really happy to be performing at that level. Two women over six metres is huge,” she added as the Netherlands’ Fleur Jong won with a world record 6.16 from France’s Marie-Amelie Le Fur’s 6.11. “It is exciting watching all these young athletes coming up. The standard keeps rising.”
In the men’s T46 1500 final (athletes with arm deficiency, impaired muscle power) Luke Nuttall (Charnwood) finished ninth in 4:02.65. He was in a great position after the first 800m (2:07.89), but couldn’t live with the increase in pace over the final 500m as Aleksandr Iaremchuk from the Russian Paralympic Committee produced a great last sub 60-second lap to win in 3:52.08.
“On reflection, the experience will be really good and will be valuable with Paris only three years away, I’ll only be 22 there. But the initial reaction is that I’m really gutted because I know that my PB is 3:55 so if I had run that, I would have been up there with them. That’s where I want to be,” he said.
“Before the race I got myself into the mentality that I’ve got one of the fastest times in the field. If I’m there, I may as well go for a medal and aim for it. I put that pressure on myself and maybe that’s why I’m feeling like this.”