Cycling, Equestrian and Swimming Success For Paralympics GB On Day Two

It was a long day two for Paralympics GB as they went second in the medal table behind China.

In the Velodrome Jaco van Gass smashed the world record and then won gold in the C3 3000m individual pursuit, leading a British one-two with Finlay Graham.

Jaco Van Gass (left) and Finlay Graham with their gold and silver medals – photo imagecomms

In qualifying Graham, just 21 years old, brought down the seven-year world record – the oldest in track para-cycling – with an incredible 3:19.780 in his first Paralympic race.

About 20 minutes later Van Gass, never to be outdone, went 3:17.593 to break the original record, set by Russia’s Alexey Obydennov at high altitude, by nearly nine seconds.

“This record was a big aim for me for a very long time,” said 35-year-old Van Gass.

“I needed to push this boundary further and further. Because of the lack of competition, I had no idea where the world was and whether they’d aim for something like a 3:25 and be happy.

“A couple of weeks ago, I did a 3:21 and that gave me a great deal of confidence.

“All the praise goes to little Fin, he pushed me really hard. To be honest, the 3:19 was my aim and then he rode it, so I had to recalculate and go faster. He pushed me really hard in the final. I was on my last legs to be very honest. He’s ridden fantastically and is a great team-mate.”

The back-to-back world records meant the pair faced off in the final, with Van Gass taking victory by a narrow margin of 1.13 seconds in a winning time of 3:20.987.

It is the latest chapter in Van Gass’s remarkable life story. He lost his left arm and needed 11 operations after being hit by a grenade on active service in Afghanistan in 2009.

It is the start of a hectic schedule for Van Gass, who has two further events on the track and two on the road.

For Graham, it was a dream Paralympic debut. He has only raced the distance twice at major events, finishing fourth at the 2019 World Championships and fifth in 2020.

“It means everything,” said the 21-year-old. “Even if it was only for a short time, it’s so nice to say that I’ve broken the world record at the Paralympics. It stood for so long.

“The extra year has given me the time to prepare to do that. If the Games were last year, I wouldn’t have been in such a good position.”

Earlier, Jody Cundy became the first British athlete to win a medal at seven Paralympic Games with silver in the men’s C4-5 1000m time trial.

Cundy produced a Paralympic record ride of 1:01.847 when it mattered.

It would need a world record to end the evergreen 42-year-old’s nine-year unbeaten streak in the event – and that’s what Spain’s Alfonso Cabello Llamas produced, with 1:01.577.

“Nobody ever wants to win a silver medal, but I didn’t lose the gold, I won the silver today,” said Cundy, who won his 11th Paralympic medal and sixth in cycling.

“It’s the best performance I’ve ever done, and sadly it wasn’t quite enough. I was watching him and thinking, ‘go on, die a little bit more, a little bit more,’ but it didn’t happen.

“We didn’t get to race properly in London, I took revenge in Rio and now he’s got it back from me. Maybe we make a thing of it in Paris and go again. We need to settle it.”

The first British medal of the day in Izu Velodrome came courtesy of Aileen McGlynn and Helen Scott, who took silver in the women’s B 1000m time trial.

The pair won silver together at London 2012 and got the band back together at 12 weeks’ notice after Sophie Thornhill’s retirement left pilot Scott without a stoker.

It all came together and a time of 1:06.743 was enough for Scott’s fifth Paralympic medal and McGlynn’s sixth, the first of which came at Athens 2004.

Scott said: “I thought the Games weren’t going to happen for me and I’m so thankful that Aileen was happy to give it another go.

“We’ve ridden together before but that was nine years ago. To do what we’ve done in 12 weeks, I couldn’t believe it when I saw the clock and the time we’d put out. We’ve got a new friendship again and we’ve just had the best time.”

Lora Fachie and pilot Corrine Hall just missed out on a medal in fourth, with Sophie Unwin and her pilot Jenny Holl one place further back in the event won by Larissa Klaassen and Imke Brommer of the Netherlands.

In the pool ParalympicsGB roared to a golden double, as Tully Kearney and Maisie Summers-Newton powered to the top of the podium with a world record apiece.

Kearney completed her remarkable journey from Rio heartbreak to the top of the Paralympic ranks, smashing her own global best time in the women’s 100m freestyle S5 to erase any disappointment at just missing out in the 200m a day earlier. 

A dramatic race over the longer distance had seen the 24-year-old – a seven-time world champion – lead until the dying stages before ending with silver, but victory never looked in doubt second time around. 

With a time of 1:14.39, Kearney knocked almost two seconds off her own world record, finishing 3.41s clear of 200m champion Zhang Li in second. 

Italy’s Monica Boggioni claimed the bronze medal, touching the wall just 0.06s ahead of another Brit Suzanna Hext, who had an asthma attack yesterday and was taken to hospital before finishing fourth for the second time in as many days. 

Kearney said: “I was quite frustrated with myself for how I swam yesterday. Yesterday I was aiming for the world record in the 200m and unfortunately with the injuries I’ve had I just didn’t have the fitness to hold on. 

“I think in a sense yesterday helped me because when I got back I didn’t have a huge adrenaline rush that kept me awake. It was so late and I was so tired that I pretty much went straight to sleep. 

“Today I was absolutely determined that nobody was going to beat me. With the injury I’ve been dealing with I felt pretty rough in the warm-up and wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, but I just said I was going to leave it all in the pool, and it worked.” 

Paralympic gold was at one stage considered an impossibility for Kearney, who was forced to withdraw from the Rio Games two weeks before she was due to fly out as a result of a progression of her condition, dystonia syndrome. 

Having been convinced to return to the pool by her mum Amanda after around a year away, Kearney has since been forced to battle an ongoing shoulder problem, but she insisted victory in Tokyo had made all the pain worthwhile. 

She added: “It’s made everything worth it. It was hard watching the Rio Games because the races were being won in slower times than I’d produced, and I thought my dream was over. 

“My mum had faith I could find a way, and if it wasn’t for her I’d never have got back in the pool again. To get to this point now with a gold medal is crazy.

“The shoulder problem has been very annoying, but I’m hoping to have a better season next year and heading towards Paris, so I can actually be fit enough to swim at the pace I want. If I can get to full fitness hopefully I can challenge the 200m world record next year.” 

Shortly after Kearney’s title exploits Summers-Newton notched ParalympicsGB’s second gold of the day in the pool with a dominant second half of the women’s 200m individual medley SM6 final to finish in a world record time of 2:56.68.

The 19-year-old bettered the world best time set by Yelyzaveta Mereshko earlier in the day to finish ahead of the Ukrainian who took silver, while Germany’s Verena Schott completed the podium with bronze. 

Eight-time Paralympic medallist Ellie Simmonds – who inspired Summers-Newton to take up swimming with her performances at previous Paralympic Games – finished strongly in fifth, while Grace Harvey was one place further back in sixth. 

“I wasn’t too panicked that the world record had fallen in the heats, because I knew my heats were solid,” said Summers-Newton. “I hoped I could pull it out of the bag tonight. 

“I knew my breaststroke was my strongest of the four, and when I saw the other girls were reasonably close I just gave it my all. Thankfully, it paid off.

“I watched Ellie [Simmonds] race in London so to be in a Paralympic final with her was insane. She’s incredibly supportive and having my teammates around me and everyone at home cheering on definitely helped.” 

Elsewhere, ParalympicsGB’s Lyndon Longhorne was also in finals action, clocking 1:33.30 to finish seventh in the men’s 100m freestyle S4. 

And the quartet of Longhorne, Kearney, Ellie Challis and Will Perry came home eighth in the mixed 4x50m freestyle 20 points relay, with a time of 2:48.34 in the final race of the session.

Piers Gilliver was left struggling for words after going one better than his Rio silver to claim top spot in the men’s wheelchair fencing épée category A at the Makuhari Messe. 

The 26-year-old had fallen at the round of 16 stage in the sabre competition a day earlier but showed no signs of letting that disappointment affect his performance with six straight wins in Pool 1. 

After breezing past Artem Manko of the Ukraine 15-2 in the quarter-finals, 2019 world champion Gilliver exacted revenge on China’s Sun Gang 15-6, with the latter having dramatically beaten the Brit in the Brazil showpiece five years ago. 

Then with the gold medal at stake Gilliver kept his composure against the Russian Paralympic Committee’s Maxim Shaburov, romping to a 15-9 win to seal Paralympic glory.

“I’m a little overwhelmed but very happy,” he said. “Maxim has been a huge rival of mine for years, so I just focused on my own game plan and executed it as best I could. 

“The small things have been really important in my preparation over the last five years. I have been meticulous in my training. Despite all the difficulties we have all faced I made sure I came here as best prepared as I could. 

“I think the épée suits me a lot better than sabre. I can take my time and be more creative in the way I fence, and I like problem solving and using tactics. Sometimes I struggle with the sheer speed of sabre.” 

Fellow Brit Dimitri Coutya also claimed a medal place in the men’s category B, picking up bronze following 15-11 victory over Belarusian defending champion Andrei Pranevich in the battle to complete the podium. 

Coutya, 23 – who progressed to the quarter-final stages of both category B foil and épée events at the Rio Games five years ago – had safely navigated his way out of Pool 1 with six straight victories, before beating Ukrainian Anton Datsko 15-13 in the last eight. 

Brazil’s London 2012 champion Jovane Guissone denied Coutya a spot in the showpiece 15-12, but the British star bounced back with a convincing victory in the bronze medal match to earn his first Paralympic gong. 

He said: “I’m a little disappointed not to make my first Paralympic final but it feels wonderful to win a medal for Great Britain. The field is really strong with a lot of great opponents   

“I knew what I needed to do against him [Pranevich]. He is a tough opponent – the defending champion – I had to dig deep and I am so glad that I was able to. 

“So much work has gone into today from a lot of hard-working people in the team so I am glad to have won something for them, and for me to show that hard work really pays off.” 

Elsewhere, Gemma Collis-McCann progressed to the round of 16 in the women’s épée category A, following Pool 3 wins against Japan’s Mieko Matsumoto and Poland’s Kinga Drozdz 5-2 and 5-4 respectively. 

With a place in the quarter-finals at stake, the 28-year-old fell to sabre bronze medallist Yevheniia Breus 15-5, and after disappointment in the sabre class Collis-McCann admitted she was frustrated with her overall showing in Tokyo. 

She said: “I am absolutely gutted – I haven’t performed how I know I can. I need to go away and look at what went wrong, I’m maybe struggling with self-belief at the moment. 

“It has been a difficult time for everyone, we have only had one competition going into the Games. In épée I am struggling without any wheelchair sparring partners, whereas a lot of these girls have another class athlete in their own countries. 

“But the experience in Tokyo has been amazing. The welcome, the hospitality, the warmth we have been shown has been incredible, and I am so pleased the Games could go ahead.”

While late into the night Sophie Wells finished off a superb day for ParalympicsGB at the Tokyo Equestrian Park by taking silver in the dressage individual test grade V.

Wells scored 74.405 per cent, just 2.119 back from Belgian gold medallist Michele George while Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar completed the podium.

Shedding some tears at the end of her routine after becoming a seven-time Paralympic medallist and admits she was relieved Don Cara stepped up to the plate.

“I am so overwhelmed with emotion,” she said.

“I came into this having no expectations, just a little bit of fear of what he could do in there for the bad. But also belief in him that if he relaxed and was with me, I knew he could medal.

“This horse has never been abroad, he has never competed abroad and has never done championships.

“Even though he is 12, he is so green and he is such a sensitive horse. He is anxious in himself and so I was just hoping he would just go in and trust me.”

Wells’ Tokyo 2020 medal follows her individual test grade IV gold, team gold and freestyle silver in Rio five years ago, as well as her individual silver, freestyle silver and team gold from London 2012.

Earlier in the day a veteran and rookie both found success for ParalympicsGB at the equestrian park as Sir Lee Pearson won a 12th Paralympic gold medal of his storied career while teammate Georgia Wilson bagged a debut bronze.

The 47-year-old, who won his first gold medals 21 years ago in Sydney, took victory in the dressage grade II individual test.

Pearson was the 11th of 12 riders to go and scored 76.265 per cent on his home-bred horse Breezer to win by a comfortable 2.824 from long-time rival Pepo Puch of Austria.

“I am very, very emotional, I cried in the arena,” he said.

“It has been a long journey, he is a home-bred horse and I am a dad now – I have never had to keep anyone else alive apart from myself. I have lots of emotions, my family aren’t out here to be with me and to do it on a home-bred horse is amazing.”

Wilson – riding Sakura – finished in an impressive third on her Games debut with 72.765 per cent, just two weeks after a late call-up to the squad to replace Sophie Christiansen.

“I did not overthink it and to be on the podium with Lee is one of those amazing things,” she said.

“I didn’t think it would happen and it was a big surprise. As a reserve I knew I was next up if something went wrong, so I made sure I was prepared and ready for when I got the call.

“Being in the same team as Lee definitely gives me that extra little push to keep improving, to try and get to his level and hopefully be as successful as him one day.”

While in the women’s wheelchair basketball ParalympicsGB were beaten by the hosts, Japan, 54-48 in a tight match.

The second defeat of the tournament leaves them needing to beat Germany.

The men’s team got off to a winning start beating Algeria 70-43 in Pool B.

A top two place was guaranteed for the wheelchair rugby team in Group B as they beat New Zealand 60-37 leaving a winner takes top match with three-time champions USA on Friday.