17th July 2023
SANDILANDS WINS IMPRESSIVE GOLD ON WORLD DEBUT; SKINNER SHINES WITH BRONZE
Ben Sandilands (coach: Steven Doig, club: Fife) claimed arguably the British team’s most impressive gold yet on the final morning of the World Para Athletics Championships in Paris, producing a completely unstoppable kick to claim the men’s T20 1500m title on debut, while Zak Skinner (Aston Moore, Loughborough Students) won a first major global medal after bronze in the men’s T13 long jump.
Sandilands handled the occasion of his very first major championship appearance for the British team like he’d been on the global stage his entire career, timing his surge for gold in the men’s T20 1500m final to perfection, kicking with 200m to go to claim gold by over a second in a Championship record of 3:52.42 minutes.
Gold for Sandilands saw him become the eighth British athlete to win a title in the French capital, his kick ranking it among the most impressive, while teammates Owen Miller (Doig, Fife) – the Paralympic champion from Tokyo – and Steven Bryce (Doig, Victoria Park City of Glasgow) – a debutant himself too – placed seventh and 13th respectively in that final.
Skinner added a second medal for the British team, and 25th overall, on the final morning, well and truly putting what happened to him at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2021 to bed as this time he claimed a first world medal with bronze in the men’s T13 long jump by two centimetres after a second-round best of 6.97m.
There was qualifying action on the final morning too as Maria Lyle (Team East Lothian) booked herself a place in the women’s T35 100m final as she bids to win a second medal after bronze in the 200m, while world debutants Kevin Santos (Mike Utting, City of Norwich) and Emmanuel Oyinbo-Coker (Nat Senior, Newham & Essex Beagles) were both automatic qualifiers in the men’s T47 100m.
Everything was new for Sandilands upon arriving in Paris having not yet made a major championships. The men’s T20 1500m final was also not only a sizeable field of 15 athletes but also supremely competitive with teammate Miller the reigning Paralympic champion.
Little happened through much of the first three laps as Sandilands, Miller and Bryce looked to get themselves in a good position at the bell. Miller had run wide and sat on the outside for much of the race up to this point and was second at the bell.
Sandilands was just behind as American Paralympic champion from Rio in 2016 Michael Brannigan led out the race. Down the backstraight it looked like Miller and Sandilands would be run out of it as Brannigan created almost a ten-metre lead and Portugal’s Sandro Baessa and Ndiaga Dieng of Italy strung out behind.
Indeed, Sandilands and Deng almost came together, which wouldn’t have helped matters. However, with the top three seemingly strung out around the final bend, Sandilands produced the most impressive kick to start picking off the leaders.
By the final 100m he was level with Brannigan and the American had no answer as Sandilands kicked on even more to win by over a second in a brilliant Championship record of 3:52.42.
Sandilands said: “It does feel amazing to win a gold. I think I sped up with 200m to go, but I know I have that speed in me, so it definitely helped. I just feel exhausted now. I went into the race thinking I could win and I did, so it has given me a lot of confidence for the future.
“It was hard to get a rhythm in the race, so sometimes it was OK, and sometimes it was hard. I just had to deal with it. A lot of hard work has gone into this. My coach Steve Doig has helped me to get here. It’s nice to train with Owen and Steven, we all encourage and support each other.”
Miller battled valiantly behind for seventh in 3:58.22 while Bryce was 13th in 4:03.80. Miller said: “It was a bit messy at the beginning and I felt like I was just getting pushed forward a lot. I managed to keep them off as much as I could. I tried my best and that is all I could.
“I’ve got more experience now and I will take that into the next one. It is my second World Championships and I feel like I am running better now. I am racing at the London Diamond League next week, so I am excited to be racing at that one, and trying again.”
Bryce added: “It was good, I tried my best, but I got boxed in, it happens sometimes. I have run better before but I will learn from this.”
Skinner’s last major championship appearance at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2021 saw him experience cruel fate as he was pushed out of a bronze medal by just two centimetres in the very final round.
There was a sense after his 6.65m opening effort, however, that history might not be repeating itself in Paris as that placed him third. That sense was fast turning into a definite as during the second round Skinner leapt even further.
A mark of 6.97m actually had him in silver medal position however he would return to third after a third-round 5.07m with Ryota Fukunaga of Japan leaping 7.01m to move ahead.
At the halfway stage Skinner was third by just two centimetres from Paralympuic champion Orkhan Aslanov of Azerbaijan and the final three rounds were extremely nervy for the Brit, who would go onto foul and then record 6.73m and 6.91m.
Aslanov’s response after fouling in the fourth round kept Skinner on edge as he produced a 6.94m leap in the fifth round and then a 6.92m in the sixth. Skinner could breathe easy after that 6.92m with bronze secured.
He said: “I’m ecstatic. It is my first world medal. Third time is a charm, third world championships and first time on that podium. I think that is the second furthest I have ever jumped, and it didn’t feel that good. It felt like there is more there.
“I think I am better distance-wise, maybe that’s delusional. Our training partner Jaz [Sawyers], after she jumped seven metres said you have to be delusional until people start to think you’re crazy. So maybe that is the group motto. I still think I am better than what I have shown with more to come but now I know I can mix it on the world stage and hold my composure.
“Tokyo [missing out on bronze by 2cm] was heart breaking. The months that followed that, it didn’t really sink. It probably wasn’t until the season after. If anything it was more the experience of yet again being in third place coming into the last round with some good jumpers behind you and holding your nerve. Three times I have gone into the last round third and been pipped and today it just wasn’t going to happen.”
Lyle will get a second chance at a medal after progressing to the women’s T35 100m final. She showed plenty of experience and maturity in the blocks to keep her balance after asking for the field to stand up initially. She didn’t panic and produced a very solid race to finish second in 14.99 and advance automatically.
Elsewhere Santos was the first of the British pair making their World Championship debut in the heats of the men’s T47 100m and cruised to an automatic qualifying spot after a great start. He clocked 10.87 (-0.1) to place second in the second of three heats and advance straight through.
Santos said: “Getting that automatic qualifying spot I think puts me in a good position to do well in the final. I just need to execute the race a bit better like I normally do in the second round – but we have to do that when we get there.”
Oyinbo-Coker also got off to a great start and ran a fine race in the third and final heat but had to push all the way to line and time his dip to perfection with Cuban Raciel Gonzalez coming up upon him at the line.
In the end Oyinbo-Coker’s dip was arguably the difference as the Brit’s time of 11.18 (-1.3) was one thousandth ahead of Gonzalez for second place. The third heat was the slowest run of the three and second and an automatic qualifying spot was important for Oyinbo-Coker as third placed missed out.
Oyinbo-Coker said: “I feel relieved, I think it’s a very, very competitive field, stacked in literally each heat, so to come through – I ran the same time [as third place], it’s those millimetres that count, so I’m really happy to be through to the final.
“I prefer having two rounds in the day, I feel like my body needs a little bit of a wake-up call, and that was definitely a bit of a wake-up call just getting through to the final, so I’m just really pleased. I think it’s one of the fastest classes in Para sport, so it’s going to be a really good watch.”
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], Hollie Arnold [Women’s F46 javelin], Hannah Cockroft [Women’s T34 100m, Women’s T34 800m], Sammi Kinghorn [Women’s T53 100m], Daniel Pembroke [Men’s F13 javelin], Ben Sandilands [Men’s T20 1500m]
SILVER:  Rafi Solaiman [Men’s T72 100m], Sammi Kinghorn [Women’s T53 800m, Women’s T53 400m], Kare Adenegan [Women’s T34 100m, Women’s T34 800m], Olivia Breen [Women’s T38 long jump], Michael Jenkins [Men’s F38 shot put], Universal 4x100m relay
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, Women’s T38 200m], Fabienne André [Women’s T34 100m], Dan Greaves [Men’s F64 discus], Zak Skinner [Men’s T13 long jump]
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