Whitehead leads GB medal rush

Britain’s Richard Whitehead blew the field away with a new T42 200m world record to add the London 2012 Paralympic crown to the World Championship title he won last year.

Three GB field event athletes were also in the medals with Gemma Prescott, Rob Womack and Claire Williams each winning bronze – their first Paralympic Games medals.

Whitehead, 36, was trailing coming off the bend in his first Paralympic Games final, but produced an astonishing last 80m to run down Shaquille Vance of USA and Germany’s Heinrich Popow before leaving them for dead.

His time of 24.38 seconds took more than half a second off his own benchmark of 24.93 set in the Netherlands in June. He became Britain’s second Athletics gold medallist of the Games following Hannah Cockroft’s T34 100m gold last night.

Whitehead, from Nottingham dedicated his gold to everyone who has supported him and to a friend who passed away recently.

“That wasn’t for me, that wasn’t for Richard Whitehead, it was for everyone who has supported me,” he said. “I was fighting back tears towards the end and I had to take a couple of minutes to pull myself together; that was a performance for everyone.

“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; we were obviously pulled back then I got off to a terrible start – I slipped – but I know my start isn’t quick and I run with what inspires me. I did that for my friend Simon Mellows who died recently.”

Whitehead is competing at his first summer Paralympics but represented GB in sledge hockey at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.

His success was followed by a hat-trick of bronze medals in the field events today.

Prescott was first up in in the women’s F31/32/51 Club and drew inspiration from watching Whitehead sprint to victory.

After three throws Prescott, from Warrington, was third and Josie Pearson, from Hay-on-Wye, sixth. That meant both qualified for a further three throws and the opportunity to battle it out for medals.

Prescott couldn’t improve on her third round effort of 20.50 metres, but that was good enough to give her bronze. Pearson threw a personal best of 13.42m in round six to climb a place to fifth overall in the multi-disability event.

“It was an amazing experience. I knew I had to go out there and PB to win a medal and I’m delighted. I’m actually really struggling for words,” said Prescott.

“Having three British girls in that event just made the crowd even louder. I’ve never been in an event like that before with such support.

“I also managed to see Richard’s (Whitehead) race so that was inspiring mid-way through the competition.”

Weymouth athlete Maxine Moore’s third round throw of 13.53m put her 12th overall.

Womack produced a personal best to win bronze in the F54/55/56 Shot. Womack, from Southend, went into the final phase in second place after throwing a personal best of 11.34m with his third attempt.

He couldn’t improve on that in his final three throws, but Iran’s Jalil Bagheri Jeddi produced a Paralympic record of 11.63m to leapfrog Womack and take gold. Womack was just 2cm – worth one point – off Poland’s Karol Kozun, who took silver.

Womack is sharing a room in the Paralympic Village with Aled Davies, who won bronze in the F42/44 Shot yesterday.

Womack said: “Last night my room mate Aled Davies had his shot put bronze and I had it round my neck. I thought ‘I want this medal.’

“My first throw was poor and I could hear Shaun (event coach Shaun Pickering) shout ‘stretch, stretch’ and I just had to remember everything I’d done back in the preparation camp in Portugal.

“I wanted to get the crowd on my side and maybe I was giving it a bit too much early on and I felt I didn’t have much left in the later rounds because of all the excitement, but Shaun told me to take some time and calm down.”

Williams rounded off an impressive session for Great Britain in the Olympic Stadium by taking bronze in the F11/12 Discus. The Loughborough athlete won her first Paralympic Games medal at her third Games, courtesy of a fourth round throw of 39.63m.

She said: “I threw as well as I could today and it’s the best I’ve thrown for a while, I’m ecstatic,” she said. “I’ve had so many ups and downs since I started, but this has made it all worthwhile – it’s made up for the last 12 years and it makes me want to go to Rio; this medal, this is what it’s for.

“I couldn’t be happier. My little girl gave me a GB flag and she was beaming, that said it all.

“I was worried that I’d be frightened by the crowd, but it was just amazing.”

Loughborough’s Libby Clegg looked in imperious form as she won her T12 100m heat in a world record 12.17 seconds with guide runner Mikail Huggins to qualify for tonight’s semi-finals.

She suggested there’s more in the tank for later, saying her run ‘felt comfortable’. “It was absolutely phenomenal, it was amazing having that home support. I’m just blown away and I’m so happy,” she said. “It felt comfortable.”

But she won’t have things all her own way later – China’s Zhu Daqing further lowered the record to 12.13 in the next heat with another Chinese runner, Zhou Guohua setting a new benchmark of 11.91 in the last heat.

Clegg won silver in the event in Beijing four years ago and gold at last year’s World Championships.

Six times Paralympian Tracey Hinton from Cardiff qualified for the women’s T11 200m final tomorrow (Sunday) night, running with guide Steffan Hughes. Hinton was third in her heat in a season’s best 27.26, which was good enough for a ‘fastest loser’ slot in the final.

And Hazel Robson, from Houghton-le-Spring, Durham, progressed to tonight’s T36 200m final, finishing third in her heat with a season’s best of 32.03. Robson is competing at her fourth Paralympics and has medalled at each one to date.

“It was a really hard race,” she said. “I came out of the blocks quickly enough and achieved a season’s best which feels all right. I need to kick faster round the bends. If I win a medal I won’t care what colour it is.”

Sixteen year old Olivia Breen from Liphook in Hampshire, qualified for tonight’s T38 100m final finishing third in her heat in 14.21.

Get more Paralympics news from www.paralympics.org.uk/gb.

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