11th July 2023
GOLDEN NIGHT FOR FORTUNE AS GB&NI WIN A FURTHER FOUR WORLD MEDALS
Sabrina Fortune (coach: Ryan Spencer-Jones / Ian Robinson, Deeside) became the latest Brit to win back-to-back World Para Athletics Championships titles in Paris with a performance the global event has never seen before on a night when Sammi Kinghorn (Rodger Harkins, Red Star), Maria Lyle (Team East Lothian) and Sophie Hahn (Leon Baptiste, Charnwood) all won medals to keep the GB&NI team rolling.
Fortune broke the 14-metre barrier in the women’s F20 shot put for just the second time in her career as a huge Championship record 14.01m effort in the third round in the French capital secured her an impressive gold, and the retaining of the World Championship title she won for the first time four years ago in Dubai.
Kinghorn herself is a proven major championship performer and produced her best world result in six years – since winning double gold over sprint distances at the memorable global gathering in London – as she claimed a superb silver in the women’s T53 800m in Paris.
It was a bumper session featuring some of the British team’s best with defending champion Hahn underlining that she is still one of the globe’s very best sprinters. Bronze in the women’s T38 100m in 12.73 seconds maintained a record of reaching the podium at the World Championships and she has more events, and medal chances, to come in Paris.
Meanwhile, and similarly, Lyle and a World Championships tends to equal medals but the twice gold medallist from Dubai in 2019 certainly took nothing for granted as she powered to a brilliant bronze in the women’s T35 200m for her eighth career medal from this type of global gathering. Four medals on the night pushed the GB&NI tally to nine so far.
On a night where there were almost as many British athletes attempting to qualify for finals as there were those competing in them, the returning Jonnie Peacock (Dan Pfaff / Benke Blomkvist, Charnwood) progressed in the men’s T64 100m as did Nathan Maguire (Ste Hoskins, Kirkby AC) and Danny Sidbury (Chris Parsloe, Sutton & District) in the men’s T54 400m. Richard Chiassaro (Jenni Banks, Harlow) unfortunately missed out in that event.
Fortune said: “It was an incredible experience. I can’t put into words how hard and how happy I truly am right now. It’s not a personal best but you know what, having that title back is the biggest thing. I’ve had a couple of bad years when I felt my sport wasn’t going well and this just proves that no matter how hard you fall you can still stand back up tall.
“I’ve really struggled all week in training where I’ve just been too hot. I struggle in heat with my asthma, so [the competition] was hard but I knew I had to get past it. I stayed in the shade, put ice towels around my shoulders – anything just to keep my body cold enough.”
Back on the world stage with fond memories of her 2019 gold, and nearly two years since finishing fifth at the Tokyo Paralympics, Fortune meant business and it showed with an impressive first three attempts.
Opening up with 12.82m effort that placed her second after Ecuadorian Poleth Mendes threw 13.60m first time, Fortune then never looked back as a 13.64m registering in the second round gave her a lead she wouldn’t relinquish, and actually go on to improve.
The third round saw Fortune blast out to a Championship record 14.01m, breaking the 14-metre barrier for just the second time in her rapidly growing career and bettering her own mark for the global event set on the way to that gold in 2019.
With gold effectively secured, she kept going to record 12.49m in round four and a very good 13.72m in round five. The only blot on the series was a fifth-round foul and, after retaining her World Championship title with her second best performance ever, Fortune was, unsurprisingly, delighted.
She added: “Before the competition I was really nervous. I was so scared because I didn’t want to lose that title. But training had been going so well I knew I had to trust myself and give everything. To hear I got a new Championship record, I was over the moon. Although it’s not a personal best it’s still incredible, so I’m really, really happy.
“I have to truly trust that I can do it now, I know I can hit so much further, I know I can hit the world record. I’ve just hit 14m which is a barrier I’ve been trying to hit for months and months, so the Paralympics in 2024, what’s to come? Well, I want to find out; hopefully it will be something good.”
Fortune was the first British athlete to compete on the third night in Paris, and in contrast, Kinghorn was the last – but she ensured the day came to an end with a British medal, the ninth for the team so far.
Kinghorn made a concerted effort to get a fast start in the women’s T53 800m final to give her the best chance of a medal and achieved exactly that. She was within 15 metres of Catherine Debrunner after the first lap and while the Swiss powered away further to win gold, the effort put in made certain a silver for Kinghorn with Turkey’s Hamide Dogangun having no chance to chase her down.
The result marked Kinghorn’s best performance at World Championships since 2017, with a bronze achieved over 100m in 2019, with her time for silver 1:44.98 minutes. She said: “I think at the start of my career if you’d said to me I was going to win a world medal over 800m I would have laughed.
“But I’m slowly, apparently, becoming a bit more of an endurance wheelchair racer which is just mad. I definitely felt the medal was within my reach – I really wanted to try get on the back of Catherine but that wasn’t there.
“I wasn’t far off getting on her at the break line, so I just know there’s that little bit missing – and I’ve got until next year to try make that up and really get there. I feel pretty confident for the 400m and 100m, I’m really looking forward to them. I’ll just try and go out there and fight for another medal.”
In the first track final for the British team on the night, Lyle faced a stern test to add an eighth career World Championship medal to her impressive haul in the women’s T35 200m but she was more than up to the challenge and powered to a brilliant bronze.
After a solid enough start to the final, the battle was well and truly on as the field came out of the bend with China’s Zhou Xia and Guo Qianqian slightly ahead and defending champion Lyle seemingly in a line with Fatimah Suwaed of Iraq.
The Chinese pair would take gold and silver in that order while Lyle showed her class over the final 50m to streak away from Suwaed to officially open up the British team’s haul for the night with bronze in 31.01.
Lyle still has the T35 100m to come in Paris and said: “I am just so relieved. It has been such a hard year. I was injured the whole of last year and had surgery on my foot and to be honest I wasn’t running for a lot of it. Those issues I’ve had from surgery have really plagued me up until this year, so I am thankful to everyone who has got me to this point.
“I am not really in the shape I want to be in, so I really had to believe in what I have done before to get me around and run with fear almost. I am just over the moon.
“I am feeling much more relaxed with my 100m. I have been able to do a lot more work, so the pressure is off now that I have managed to get a medal. I don’t have to worry about that and hopefully execute a good race and try and enjoy myself as much as I can.”
Following shortly on from Lyle’s bronze was the women’s T38 100m final featuring Hahn and Breen but not Ali Smith (Benke Blomkvist, Guildford & Godalming) unfortunately who withdrew because of illness.
Hahn, the defending world champion and reigning Paralympic champion, got a supreme start to lay down the challenge to the field and a great battle between her, Colombia’s Darian Jimenez and Hungary’s Luca Ekler ensued.
Hahn held on for as long as she could but Jimenez and Ekler edged past to take gold and silver respectively but the Brit wouldn’t be denied bronze with a time of 12.73. Teammate and Commonwealth champion Breen battling back from an ankle injury placed a valiant sixth in 13.48 and has the long jump to come.
Hahn said: “It’s been quite a tough year but I am glad I have come back on the world stage and made the top three and made the podium. That is all that matters. Next year is the Paralympic Games and I am going to come back stronger and faster and quicker. I’ll be back.
“I’m happy I made the podium. Becoming a five-time world champion [in the 100m] would have been the dream ticket but it is good to come away with a medal. It would be nice to keep dominating but now is the time to enjoy it.”
Peacock, back competing at the World Championships for the first time since that memorable gold in London in 2017, gave enough of a glimpse of what he could produce as he comfortably qualified for the men’s T64 100m final.
The 30-year-old powered out of the blocks better than anyone else in the field and led for the first 50m. From thereon in, and with the top three needed to progress and that effectively secured, he started to ease down.
Italian Maxcel Amo Manu finished fast to take the win in that second heat and equal Peacock’s European record of 10.64 with the Brit credited with third behind German Johannes Floors despite both registering 10.92.
Peacock said: “[Looking at] past results, you can never be happy coming third in a heat. It is a great race, it is a testament to the strength in depth that we have got in this class now. I think it has turned into one of the best and most competitive races with the most elite guys, which is great.
“The final is going to be a fast race. I’ve said it before, I think the world record is going to go. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting Manu to run so fast. When I got up and saw him on the right that was a little bit of a shock. I have been to enough championships now that we know what to do.”
Attempting to join Peacock in a final in Paris were teammates Maguire, Chiassaro and Sidbury in the men’s T54 400m. Maguire and Chiassaro were first up in the first of two heats with the former producing a great one lap to place second in 45.80 and secure automatic qualification. Chiassaro meanwhile raced strong but seventh place in 47.27 saw him miss out.
Maguire said: “We knew it was top three to qualify. I didn’t want to risk it so I just went as hard I could just to solidify that place and hopefully that puts me in a good lane for the final. I am always excited to make a final. Obviously, every athlete wants to win a medal but just the fact that I get to compete on this world stage and make finals is incredible.
“In 2017 I didn’t make any finals [at the worlds] in the events actually at the Paralympic Games and to be able to come now and sit on the start line with these guys and be able to qualify for finals and really compete is so exciting.”
Sidbury was the lone Brit in the second and final heat, and just 24 hours after his bronze over 5000m, but he produced a blistering last 150m to power through to second place, and automatic qualification, himself. His time of 46.04 ranking him fifth overall going into the final while Maguire was third at the conclusion of the heats.
He said: “The progression has been good. The track was perhaps a little bit faster than I thought it was. Conditions were very good out there. I am just glad to get through to the final as I am not really a 400m guy. I am definitely more longer to middle distance so I am very happy to get into the final.
“It [going from 5000m to 400m] is exploring my extremities in terms of distances and athletic ability and skillset. It is just completely different races, there is very little comparison to be honest. I will just see what happens in the final and try to get a good clean start. I know I have got a decent finish and see if I can go picking them off one by one. I really don’t know if I will make the podium in this one or not but I will see how close I can get.”
The Great Britain and Northern Ireland medallists:
GOLD:  Gavin Drysdale [Men’s T72 100m], Jonathan Broom-Edwards [Men’s T64 high jump], Sabrina Fortune [Women’s F20 shot put]
SILVER:  Rafi Solaiman [Men’s T72 100m], Sammi Kinghorn [Women’s T53 800m]
BRONZE:  Zac Shaw [Men’s T12 100m], Danny Sidbury [Men’s T54 5000m], Maria Lyle [Women’s T35 200m], Sophie Hahn [Women’s T38 100m]
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