8 September 2008
Shelly Woods and Chris Martin won Britain’s first athletics medals of the 2008 Paralympic Games on the first evening of action in the Bird’s Nest.
But while Woods was overjoyed with her silver in a dramatic T54 5000m final Martin was disappointed to lose the gold after leading the F33/34/52 discus for much of the competition.
Woods’ silver owed much to skill, a bit to luck, and something to the random chaos that can occasionally descend on wheelchair racing.
The 22-year-old Blackpool athlete is an experienced marathon competitor and she had to call on her racing nouse to avoid a huge crash on the penultimate lap that left five athletes sprawled across four lanes of the track and the packed crowd stunned.
Woods had been hovering at the back of the 11-strong pack, biding her time as the leaders approached the bell when a clash of wheels sent the chairs spinning. Skillfully avoiding the pile-up, she moved into third on the final lap and snatched second as the remaining finalists zig-zagged around the carnage in the final straight.
“Incredibly dramatic isn't even the word to describe it,” said Woods who finished in a personal best 11:54.29. “Crashes happen quite a lot and this one wasjust in front of me. When I saw it happen I thought, ‘Oh my god’.
“I managed to swerve around the girls. I've had a few crashes of my own in my career, so to end up with silver is fantastic.”
“I believed in myself. I knew I could do it and get a medal, but it was so unfortunate for the other girls.”
Woods said she was delighted to win Britain’s first athletics medal of the Games. "I can't believe I'm the first. It won't sink in for a while, it’s just amazing.The atmosphere out there is amazing, I loved every minute.”
Diane Roy benefited most from the mess. The Canadian took gold and somehow set a Paralympic record of 1:54.03 despite having to swerve around the injured athletes.
Martin’s event was dramatic too, but in a quite different way. The Nottinghamshire athlete led for much of the competition with a Paralympic record until Aigars Apinis of Latvia snatched the gold with a world record on his sixth and final effort.
“I am disappointed not to get the gold because I felt I was in control of the competition,” said Martin who was fourth in this event in Athens after winning gold in Sydney.
"I'm really pleased to come away with silver, although deep down I wanted gold. It’s what I hoped for. It was all going so well until the last couple of rounds, you just can't respond to world records when you have already thrown.”
“I'll be back to work on Monday. I came here to do a job and now I have to go home to do my other job as a business analyst.”
Martin added that he felt sorry for his teammate Dan West who finished a disappointed sixth after taking silver four years ago. “He'll be back in his second event,” said Martin.
In the evening’s heats, Dave Weir won his second race of the day to qualify for the men’s T54 500m final. The Surrey racer cruised through his heat in 10:21.77.
“I'm just glad the first day is over, and I'm pleased with how it went,” said Weir who also raced over 400m this morning. “I'm looking forward to getting a good rest and sleep before tomorrow.”
Weir is back in the stadium tomorrow morning for the 5000m semi-finals with the 400m semis in the evening.
Brian Alldis failed to finish in his heat after the rubber came off his right glove on the third lap.
"I just lost my grip so I couldn't carry on,” said Alldis. “I'm gutted but I'll be back. I suppose it was worth coming out here to witness the atmosphere, its really amazing.”
The atmosphere also staggered Libby Clegg. The 18-year-old made it to the T12 100m final with a comfortable victory in the semis. The Scot lowered her personal best for the second time in the day clocking 12.69.
"I am really pleased, especially now I know I've made the final,” said the Roxburghshire student who goes into Tuesday’s final as the fourth fastest qualifier.
“It was such a great atmosphere in the stadium. I was quite relaxed on the start line, maybe too much. But I'm quite nervous now thinking about the final."
Tracey Hinton was unlucky to not qualify for the T11 100m final. In tough qualifying conditions where only the winner of each race was guaranteed passage to the final, Hinton missed out on going through as next fastest by four one-hundredths of a second.
"I'm so disappointed, can't believe we just missed out by a few hundredths of a second, its nothing."
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