Gareth A Davies: The night that David Weir and Jonnie Peacock brought the house down

The Telegraph's Paralympics Correspondent looks back at "Thriller Thursday" 05 Sep 2013
Jonnie Peacock celebrates winning gold in the men's 100m T44 Final on Day 8 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Great Britain's Jonnie Peacock

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By Gareth Davies

"The sell–out crowd created a volcano of noise erupting into the night sky."

"Thriller Thursday", the evening in the Olympic Stadium, was like a coming out party for the athletes, and a sprinkling of greatness. The Summer Games were a couple of days from over, the reflection was already beginning… and then came David Weir, Jonnie Peacock, and Hannah Cockcroft, Britain’s triumvirate of athletic stars.

The hat-trick of gold medals made it a special night. In scenes of unbridled joy from spectators reminiscent of the Olympic "Super Saturday" when Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah won their gold medals over a period of an hour, the 19-year-old had followed wheelchair sprinters Cockroft and Weir on to the medals podium within the cauldron, to cheers of "Peacock, Peacock".

The sell–out crowd created a volcano of noise erupting into the night sky.

It still mesmerises that one of the greatest surprises, and pleasures, was the speed with which the British public understood Paralympic Sport; not the complex field of classification, but a deeper understanding that what they were witnessing was, literally, extraordinary human beings.

Peacock's mother, Linda, later recalled that she was in tears even before her son stepped on to the track for his 100m T44 final.

That emotion was to intensify as he stood on the start line with the sound of "Peacock, Peacock" reverberating around the Olympic stadium.

“All of a sudden the crowd started chanting his name,” she told The Telegraph. “I just fell silent. I looked at my other half, Steve, with my mouth open. And then when Jonnie shushed them, I couldn't believe it was my 19–year–old son doing that.”

“There were 80,000 people there and he just gave them a quick clap to acknowledge them but then told them that it was time to get on with the race. Even as his mother, I was really impressed with how he handled it."

Indeed, the start of the race had to be delayed as the crowd began chanting Peacock's name, prompting the stadium announcer to call for silence so that the athletes could hear the starter's gun.

Then Peacock exploded from his blocks and left Oscar Pistorius, and the Americans Richard Browne and Jerome Singleton for dust…he won Paralympic gold with space to spare as he went over the line.

His mother looked heavenwards. She had lost her father while pregnant with Jonnie and it felt as if she were close with him again.

Peacock and his parents then found each other in the stadium. It was deeply emotional. We might recall that doctors had said it may be goodbye to her son, then aged five, when was taken to the operating theatre after contracting life-threatening meningitis.

But he became a beacon. And on Thriller Thursday, nigh on 80,000 spectators breathed in with him, and tore up the 100m with him.

Collective energy is an incredible thing: it made him run like an arrow.

The 100m sprint had billing as the race of the Games.

Teenager Peacock won gold in a Paralympic record of 10.90 seconds – the second fastest time in history by a single leg–amputee T44 sprinter, having previously set the world record of 10.85 seconds in June.

Pistorius, the defending champion, was in fourth place in 11.18 seconds – his second defeat of the week after being beaten into second place in the 200m four days earlier by Brazil's Alan Fonteles Oliveira.

Peacock described the moment as “surreal”.

Meanwhile, Cockroft, 20, who became known as "Hurricane Hannah", began the gold rush with her second Paralympic title of the Games in the T34 200m.

The Halifax athlete finished more than two and a quarter seconds ahead of her closest rival in a Paralympic record of 39.9 seconds.

It confirmed her status as Britain's most talented female wheelchair racer since Baroness Grey–Thompson, the 11–time Paralympic gold medallist.

Then there was the imperious Weir, Tough of The Track, the veteran racer at 33, but in the prime of his life physically, clinching his third gold medal of the Games after winning the T54 800m in 1:37.63 seconds after a tense sprint finish.

Having already won the 5,000m and 1,500m titles, it set up the opportunity of him winning the marathon on the final day of the Games, to bring home a quartet of golds across the range of distances.

Amid the euphoria, Weir admitted that it had been the toughest race so far, dedicating victory to his children.

It was a night which cut deeply into the psyche of the wonderful sporting British public.

There was legacy thick in the air on the night, little children leaving the Olympic Park pretending to push a wheelchair like Weir, pumping their arms like Cockroft, or running with the lilting gait of Peacock. That’s what Thriller Thursday did. It left a ringing in the ears, and memories of the most exciting two hours in a stadium in Paralympic history.

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