GB and Northern Ireland’s co-captain Hannah Cockroft (Halifax, Jennifer Banks) added a sixth gold medal to her collection with an emphatic win in the women’s T34 wheelchair 100m, breaking her own world record to cap a fabulous day on the track in Tokyo.
Ever since London 2012 where she won both the 100m and 200m, the former rugby player turned sprinter has been one of the names to watch on the British team, but she knew it wouldn’t be easy as Rio silver medallist England’s Kare Adenegan (Coventry, Job King) lined up alongside her, the only athlete to ever beat her.
And she was right to be wary as the fast-starting Adenegan opened up a half wheel lead by 30 metres in the strongest final ever assembled.
Cockroft was ready, however, and found her rhythm in the final 40 metres, flying to a sensational 16.39. That’s quick by any standards – more than two seconds faster, for instance, than a world record she set back in 2012 and close to 0.2 better than her existing mark set back in May in Switzerland.
Behind her Adenegan clocked 17.03, while in fifth, making her debut in the Paralympics was Fabienne Andre (Weir Archer Academy, Jenny Archer) with 19.14.
“That was the hard race; I knew Kare was going to get out fast, but I had to remain composed and go with her,” said Cockroft, who was “relieved and excited” her Games are finally under way. “There has been so much pressure and insecurity around this whole Games; it was on, it was off, it was back on. Family can come, they can’t come. To finally be here, get out there and put that time down is amazing. I did not think that time was something I was capable of.
“I’ve been to the last two Games and won five golds, so anything less than gold wouldn’t be enough, I wouldn’t be satisfied. I’m 29 now so I haven’t got many of these left,” she concluded, adding she’s confident the 800m will go as well. Watch this space!
Happy with the silver medal, Adenegan said: “The past few weeks have been really difficult, and I’ve been questioning where I am at. So, to post a season’s best and be close to sub-17 again, I’m really happy with it.” She knew she had to execute her pre-race plan to be competitive. “My start was really good. I was surprised how far ahead I was at the start. I know Hannah’s top speed is quicker than mine so I knew she might go past me. Seeing that time though is something I’m very happy with.”
Like Cockroft, Andre is now looking forward to the 800m. “I wanted to get out there and enjoy the experience. It was just amazing to have a race at a Paralympic Games, so I cannot wait for the 800m next week,” she said.
Ireland’s Jason Smyth won his fourth Paralympic title in a row in the men’s T13 100m (vision impaired athletes), clocking 10.53. Behind him, England’s Zak Skinner (Loughborough Students, Aston Moore) warmed up for his favoured event, the long jump with an eighth-place finish in 11.08 after squeezing through to the final with 11.14.
The men’s T54 wheelchair 400m featured two English athletes with Nathan Maguire (Kirkby, Peter Wyman), 6th in 47.14 after clocking 46.72 in qualifying and Richard Chiassaro (Harlow, Jennifer Banks), 7th in 47.37, but it was all about the USA’s Daniel Romanchuk. The American entered five events in Rio and went out in the first round of them all. In Tokyo he just missed out on the bronze in the 5000m by 0.13sec, but his persistence paid off in the 400m and he hauled himself back into contention in the final 100m, most of the gap closing in the last 20 metres, to clock 45.72 and win by 0.01sec!
Afterwards, Nathan Macguire said: “My aim coming into these Games was to make a final, so to be there alongside Rich was amazing. It’s showing that wheelchair racing in Britain is really pushing forward. I got a better start in the final than I did this morning, but the guys still took off fast. But I knew I could chase them down and catch a few on the top bend which I managed to do.”
Richard said: “I had a great start and a good back straight so it was much better than the heat earlier. I was gaining on the guys in the home straight but there wasn’t enough track. I’ve had quite a few injuries over the last 18 months with my neck, so making finals is the aim. I’m a bit disappointed not to medal but the standards of those guys at the front is very strong – they are all setting 45s. My PB is quicker than that but that’s obviously a few years ago.”
Germany’s Felix Streng and Johannes Floor laid down some impressive markers in the men’s T64 100m qualifying (athletes with a leg amputation) qualifying rounds that featured a certain superstar in the form of London and Rio gold medallist Jonnie Peacock (Charnwood, Michael Khmel). In this mixed category event, Floor, a T62 double amputee clocked 10.79 to eclipse Peacock’s Paralympic record of 10.81 in the first heat before Streng, a T64 single amputee went even better to cross the line in 10.72. However, Peacock, also a single amputee, looked supremely easy behind Streng, his 10.87 a season’s best and not bad for someone who by his own admission only ran to about 70 metres before shutting down. “It went exactly as planned – I always expect big things of people. Felix has been in great form and consistent over 10.7 and he did that again today. My plan was to run no further than 60 metres, but I ended up going to 70 metres as I got in a race. But I switched off after that, today wasn’t about racing, it was about qualifying,” he laughed. “I definitely felt like I could surge up, but I put the brakes on. The final will be all about the finish and it will all come down to that last 40 metres tomorrow.”