Whitehead and Cockroft are Britain’s first two Paralympic champions inside the London 2012 Stadium
He maintains that he’d rather compete in the marathon than the sprints, but today at the Paralympic Games Richard Whitehead decimated the field in the T42 200m to strike gold and smash his own world record in the process.
Whitehead, who was born without the lower half of his legs and uses prosthetics, often takes a while to get into his running before coming on strong in the second half. A slight stumble at the start of the 200m final could have been costly, but once he hit the home straight he soon hit top gear and he blasted through the field to finish in 24.38 seconds, taking more than half a second off the world record he set earlier this year.
“That wasn’t for me, it was for everyone who has supported me,” he said after the race. “I was fighting back tears towards the end and I had to take a couple of minutes to pull myself together.
“There are so many people wanting you to win so it’s a big weight to carry on your shoulders, but I’ve got broad shoulders so I can bear the weight.
“The race didn’t really go as expected,” he added of a race in which all nine finalists set PBs. “I got off to a terrible start – I slipped – but I know my start isn’t quick and I run with what inspires me and I did that for my friend Simon Mellows who died recently.”
It was Britain’s second athletics gold medal of the Paralympics, following Hannah Cockroft’s victory in the T34 100m. Her performance was every bit as dominant as Whiteheads as she won by almost a second and a half, stopping the clock on 18.06 to improve her own Paralympic record.
“I’ve been waiting four years for that,” said the 20-year-old. “It’s a little bit surreal when you’re dreaming about it for so long and then it just kind of happens in, what, 18 seconds. You’re kind of like, ‘I want to do that again, I can do that better’. But I’ve got it now and I can’t complain. Everyone went mental. It was absolutely amazing. I can’t describe it, it was phenomenal.”
Britain’s first athletics medal of the Games came during Friday’s morning session, where Aled Davies took the bronze medal in the F42/44 shot. He was some way down on his PB of 14.56m – a mark which would have been good enough for silver – but his final-round throw of 13.78m guaranteed him the bronze.
Denmark’s Jackie Christiansen – who is classified as an F44 while Davies is an F42 – took the gold with a Paralympic record of 18.16m.
Three more British bronze medals in throwing events followed in today’s morning session. Robin Womack was just two centimetres off taking silver in the F54-56 shot, but could at least take some consolation in the fact that his 11.34m was a PB. Iran’s Jalil Bagheri Jeddi was the winner, throwing 11.63m on his final attempt.
Gemma Prescott improved significantly on her seventh-place finish from the 2008 Olympics by adding almost one metre to her PB in the F31/32/51 club throw with a national record of 20.50m to place third. The winner, Maroua Ibrahmi of Tunisia, set a world record of 23.43m to take gold.
Having finished fifth in the F11/12 discus at the past two Paralympics, visually-impaired thrower Claire Williams was desperate to make it on to the podium. And she did exactly that with a throw of 39.63m to land the bronze medal.
Elsewhere, sprint world records were set by Oscar Pistorius and Jason Smyth – two Paralympic stars who in recent seasons have crossed over into able-bodied competition.
Double amputee Pistorius – who reached the semi-finals of the 400m at the Olympics in August – impressed in the T44 200m heats with a 21.30 world record, despite easing down towards the end.
Meanwhile, visually impaired sprinter Smyth – who competed at this summer’s European Championships and reached the 100m semi-finals – successfully defended his T13 100m title in 10.46, although he boasts a PB of 10.22 set against able-bodied competition.