Four world records fell out on the track on Friday (2 June), the opening day of competition at the Nottwil Grand Prix in Switzerland, as Para athletes from around the world made their intentions clear ahead of next month’s World Championships.
Great Britain’s Richard Whitehead (T42), Belgian Peter Genyn (T51), Tunisian Walid Ktila (T34) and Kuwaiti Ahmad Almutairi (T33) all set new 200m world records in the Swiss sunshine with the London 2017 Para Athletics World Championships due to start in exactly six weeks’ time.
Whitehead, the reigning men’s 200m T42 world and Paralympic champion, knocked 0.02 seconds off his own world record as he stormed home in 23.01.
At 40-years-old Whitehead admits that he needs to look at all areas of his running – how he trains and how he recovers after his sessions – and make vital improvements where he can as “fast twitch starts to run out at about 30.”
Still, the devoted family man believes he is capable of going even faster.
“Being a father and having a family back at home means you have to make sacrifices for your sport and this year I’ve definitely spent a lot of time away, so it’s important that I put down the performances,” said Whitehead.
“It’s nice to break my world record again and obviously that 23-second barrier - I can have a go at that in London maybe in the World Championships.”
Peter Genyn meanwhile obliterated the world record he set here 12 months ago, clocking 36.62 in the men’s 200m T51 – a massive 0.85 faster than his previous best set at the same track one year ago.
“I didn’t expect this time – it’s given me a lot of confidence, everything just went perfectly,” said Genyn, who finished more than a second clear of his key rival, Toni Piispanen of Finland.
Tunisia’s Walid Ktila (26.18) set two new world records in nearby Arbon one week ago and the four-time world champion was at it again in Nottwil, powering clear round the bend in the men’s 200m T33/34 to knock 0.03 seconds off his five-day old mark.
“I’m very happy, it is the result of lots of hard work,” said Ktila, who also won the 800m T34 earlier in the day in 1:38.99.
“I will continue to work hard – tomorrow I race in the 100m and I hope I will get a new world record there too.”
The fastest finisher in the men’s T33 class was Kuwaiti Almutairi Ahmad (29.00), who took 0.35 seconds off his best set in Dubai in March.
Another Para athlete continuing to show great form after record-breaking performances in Arbon was Canadian Brent Lakatos (25.32), who raced home to win the 200m T53.
The Rio 2016 gold medallist came within 0.28 seconds of his 25.04 world record mark and was clearly delighted that his season was progressing so well.
“This year I made changes to hard gloves and it was a really difficult off season because nothing was working – I was trying to use hard gloves and they take a long time to get used to. It’s just really in the past few weeks that everything has really come together and I’m feeling really happy now,” said Lakatos, who celebrated his 37th birthday on Thursday (1 June). He had further reason to celebrate with a win in the 800m T53 in 1:32.75.
In other 200m races, China’s Lei Song (24.81) was the fastest of the men’s T54 racers; there were also impressive performances from Portugal’s T12 sprinter Luis Goncalves (22.89) and the Netherlands’ T44 athlete Ronald Hertog (22.86).
Brazil’s former multiple Paralympic champion Terezinha Guilhermina (25.80) took the top spot in the women’s 200m T35-47 just ahead of Dutch T43 world record holder Marlou van Rhijn (26.45).
After finishing out of the medals at Rio 2016, Guilhermina, 38, is determined to find new ways to succeed.
“I’ve been training so much and tomorrow I will throw the javelin; on Monday the long jump. I’m very happy because it is a different test - this year is different for me. I think I am better and I will be ready for the World Championships,” she said.
Van Rhijn meanwhile was delighted with her first 200m of the season. Now training under the guidance of British coach Keith Antoine, the 25-year-old believes the changes he has introduced are paying off.
“I was really happy, maybe if you see the time you wouldn’t really understand, but I actually was really happy as we have been working on so much stuff which is way different than I did before. Now I really feel like it’s coming together – it’s just a matter of practise, practise, practise,” explained van Rhijn, who holds the world record of 25.64 seconds.
Home favourite Manuela Schär (29.33) added a win in the 200m T54 having pipped China’s Paralympic marathon champion Lihong Zou to the line in the 800m T54.
Schär, who set a new European record over 1,500m a week ago, clocked 1:49.10 over two laps, just 0.01 seconds ahead of Zou.
In other 800m races, Great Britain’s Hannah Cockroft (1:56.71) was back in action less than a week after breaking four world records in Arbon.
The five-time Paralympic champion continued to dominate action on the track, recording her second-fastest ever time in the 800m T34.
Home favourite Marcel Hug kicked off his weekend of track action with a win in his 800m T54 heat – the 31-year-old still has the 400m, 1,500m, 5,000m and 10,000m to come over the three days of competition. Fastest overall was China’s Yong Zhang (1:33.76), who raced in the first heat.
Out in the field Frenchman Marcelin Walico (F57) won the discus F31-57 with a best of 30.88m; his compatriot Tony Falelavaki (F44) came out on top in the javelin F35-47 with 49.94m.
Full results can be found here and competition continues on Saturday 3 June.