Canada’s Keira Lyn-Frie was the international star of today’s London Disability Athletics Grand Prix with four victories at Crystal Palace, but the British highlights came from multiple world record holder Hannah Cockroft (coach: Peter Eriksson) who - subject to ratification - reduced the 400m T34 world record to 1:01.19, and World 400m Champion Paul Blake (coach: Rob Ellchuk) who clocked an outstanding 800m T36 world record of 2:08.02.
Blake, who finished runner up in both the 800m and 1500m to Russia’s double World Champion and world record holder Artem Arefyev in January’s International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics World Championships in New Zealand, was taken by surprise with his lifetime best performance, but puts it down to an increased level of strength training.
“I was really shocked when I saw the time,” he admitted, “I thought it was high 2.09 so when I saw the result I was really, really happy.
“Yesterday, my coach Rob (Rob Ellchuk) told me to go through in 59-60 and try to maintain it down the back straight then give all I had, and it worked. I definitely think the extra gym work has played a part by making me stronger. I’ve also done longer speed sessions, but I think it’s the strength training that’s done it.”
Cockroft clocked an impressive 58.59 at the Stoke Mandeville Disability Athletics Challenge a week ago, but, due to the absence of drug testers, the mark is unlikely to stand; today, however, she returned with a vengeance to finish third in a mixed classification T52-54 one lap event.
“I’ve just got a new racing chair so I’m still getting used to it, but it’s great to have a chair that fits,” admitted the double World Champion.
“We’re always working to improve something and it’s paying off; I’ve now nailed my start and I’ve got a good top end speed - now it’s just my transition phase I need to work on!”
And while Cockroft and Blake delivered from a British perspective, Lyn-Frie, with wins in the T52-54 100m (18.18/-1.9m/s), 200m (32.29/-0.5m/s), 400m (59.85) and 1500m (3:57.33), demonstrated the high quality international standard of the world class meet.
“This past season has been unexpected in some ways but I’ve been working really hard on my psychology and I’ve basically changed my set-up in my chair, everything really,” she said, having returned to action this morning after finishing second to Shelly Woods (coach: Peter Eriksson) in Friday night’s Aviva London Grand Prix 800m T54. “I think I plateaued for a few years but it’s all really coming together now.”
The positions were reversed on Saturday, however, with Woods finishing second in the combined class 1500m in 3:57.45: “I wanted to try out some different tactics today by taking it on from a long way out,” said Woods.
“I’m a bit tired from last night (Friday) but that’s not an excuse, I’m quite happy with that and it’s great to have this level of competition where you can experiment in a good quality field outside of a major Championship.
“Keira’s made a big breakthrough (winner Keira Lyn-Frie) this year; she’s gone from being just ok to being really good and I wanted to see what she could do. I wanted to take it out, you have to if nobody else does, and it was great to have the opportunity to do that, even if I lost out this time.”
Germany’s Marc Schuh, like Lyn-Frie, also delivered a series of impressive international performances with victories in the T52-54 100m (14.73/-0.8m/s), 200m (26.11/+0.1m/s) and 400m (47.97), but Britain’s Richard Chiassario did well to close him down with second in the 100m (15.54) and 200m (27.47).
Highlighting more of the exceptional British talent on offer, World 200m Champion Richard Whitehead (coach: Liz Yelling) - whose success in the global Championships in New Zealand was based unusually on an exceptional endurance base - clocked 13.60 (-0.7m/s) in the combined class Ambulatory ‘A’ 100m.
Having recorded his first and only 100m time of 13.58 at the Stoke Mandeville Disability Athletics Challenge, it was a consistent mark for the multi-talented athlete and is testament to his commitment to winning Paralympic gold in London next year.
“This is definitely not my event but it’s good to get the experience and utilize the skills I’ve been developing with my coach Liz (Yelling) and Keith Antoine.
“I’ve been doing a lot more speed specific sessions on the track with some technical input to help me maximize what I can do over 200m, but I’ll obviously keep my base training because that’s what helped me win my World title in New Zealand.”
T37 World Champion Katrina Hart (coach: Rob Ellchuk) and T12 World Champion Libby Clegg (coach: Keith Antoine) were also satisfied with their morning’s work, achieving doubles in the 100m and 200m.
Hart, pushed all the way by her Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland team mate Jenny McLoughlin (coach: Darrell Maynard), clocked 14.92 (+1.5m/s) to win the women’s 100m Ambulatory ‘B’ race after a busy 24 hours which saw her also compete in the Aviva London Grand Prix on Friday night, while she opened her account on Saturday with a solid win in the ‘B’ 200m in 30.48 (-0.5m/s).
Clegg clocked 13.08 (-0.1m/s) and 26.37 (-1.2m/s) to win the Ambulatory ‘A’ 100m and 200m respectively.
Dan West (coach: Jim Edwards) and Dan Pfaff-coached duo Stef Reid and Scott Moorhouse were the best placed Aviva GB & NI athletes on the infield, West taking victory in the combined class seated Shot Putt with 11.13m; Reid finishing second in the Long Jump F44-46 with 4.97m; and Moorhouse taking second in the Ambulatory Javelin with a final round effort of 41.39m.
“I had over two months out with an injury so it gave me the chance to look at other things too and come back stronger,” said Reid. “Dan (her coach, Dan Pfaff) is one of the best rehab coaches there is and I’ve come back super strong which is testament to the overall support I’ve had.
“I’d say I’m in better shape than when I broke the world record here last summer; I’m certainly jumping much further in practice I’m just not quite translating it into competition and I fouled a couple of jumps today which would have been really big, but overall it’s not bad.”
That was an opinion shared by Peter Eriksson, UKA’s Head Coach (Paralympic), who was pleased with the standard of the competition and the professionalism of the athletes: “It’s been a long year because of the World Championships in January but there were some really good, solid performances out there today,” he said.
“I think overall it shows that we’ve increased the base standard at which our guys are competing, which is partly thanks to more competition opportunities such as this, but also the commitment from the athletes and the no-excuses environment in which we’re operating.”