In a hugely successful morning, Shelly Woods (coach: Pete Wyman) won the first of three medals for the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand (21-30 January), taking bronze in a high class T54 5000m field (12:52.82).
Woods - Beijing Paralympic Games bronze medallist over the distance - has a packed programme over the next nine days and was pleased to open her account with a podium finish in wet conditions.
“I’m happy with a bronze,” she said. “It’s a good start and hopefully I can build on that for the rest of the Championships. I felt really strong and in drier conditions I can use my speed a bit more; I had to adjust my technique a bit because of the rain and I had to push the best I could to get the best grip.
“The conditions weren’t the best out there,” she continued, “but I’m British, and the conditions were British, so I was quite happy. It wasn’t ideal - towards the end of the race I was losing my grip and I had to deal with it as well as I could – but I think I handled it quite well.”
Having shared the lead within the main pack in the early stages, Woods – who finished fourth in the 5000m in the previous edition of the World Championships in Assen, Netherlands (2006) – soon broke clear alongside USA’s Amanda McGrory, the reigning Paralympic champion and Switzerland’s Sandra Graf who defeated both athletes en route to the course record at the 2008 London Marathon.
Within seconds the trio had a ten-second gap on the chasing group and the tactical battle for the podium started to unfold.
Woods took the lead with six laps to go and passed the 3000m mark in 7:41.13, but on the penultimate lap there was nothing to split the group. As they kicked off into the back straight the pace picked up and McGrory led into the final 100m to take the victory in 12:52.41.
“I was happy to get in the break away,” said Woods. “At first there was two, then there were three, then we pulled away and we just worked it until we started to race for medals over the past two laps. It gets a bit like cat and mouse and my main thing was that I didn’t want lead... nobody wants to at that point.
“If the weather improves and it gets drier I can get back to what I’ve been doing in training and what I’ve learned and I’m looking forward to that. I’d love a gold medal so fingers crossed – I feel good and I feel fast and I just need that good opportunity.”
There was also a bronze medal for Gemma Prescott (coach: Mike Woods) who warmed up for her number one event – the F32 shot putt tomorrow (Sunday 23 January) - with a third place finish in the F32/32/51 club throw (16.40m).
One of the less commonly held events in major Championships for women, Prescott was pleased to finish on the podium after she admitted to going into the unknown.
“I really tried to shut off from tomorrow and stay focused on today,” she said. “Nobody really knew what to expect so I was really just targeting a good distance. That was a big PB for me and it’s definitely given me confidence going into the shot putt. It’s good to get one under my belt - now I need to go back and re-focus.”
In the only non-medal event of the day, World Record holder Hannah Cockroft (coach: Peter Eriksson) got her IPC World Championships campaign off to a flying start with victory in the T34 200m.
Cockroft – whose lifetime best stands at 33.47 – was the dominant winner in 33.72, a new Championships Record, as she led from start to finish.
“I’m happy with that; it was easier than I thought,” she admitted. “I got off to a good start which is testament to the work I’ve done with Peter.
“I wasn’t too nervous but I think that was because I saw the girls I was going to race against in training and I knew I was better than them.”
Unfortunately there was disappointment for Claire Williams (coach: Jim Edwards) who finished fifth in the F12 discus final with 37.19m having led in the early rounds.
In spite of the poor early conditions, which later improved to sunshine, the morning session had opened in style with the first gold medal of the Championships going to Kenya’s Abraham Tarbei in the men’s T46 5000m. With a 2010 world leading time of 14:27.30 he was the firm favourite for victory, but the race came down to a sprint finish and the World Record holder and Paralympic champion had to work hard to take the title in 14:48.29 ahead of Ethiopia’s Wondered Fire Indelbu in second (14:48.48).
GB & NI’s T53 100m World Record holder and Paralympic Game silver medallist Mickey Bushell (coach: Fred Periac) progressed easily through his heat short sprint heat in 15.24, posting the fastest time of the day with victory, while Libby Clegg (coach: Tom Crick), also a silver medallist in Beijing over 100m, raced to victory in the T12 200m in 26.95.
“That was hard work,” said the 2006 World Championships runner up. “The girls went off quickly but I’ve been doing a lot of work with my coach Tom which definitely helped me come through in the end.”
Making it a successful morning overall for GB & NI team, Tracey Hinton (coach: Darrell Maynard), Sally Brown (coach: Philip Tweedy) and David Weir (coach: Jenny Archer), who was particularly impressive in taking victory in his heat, all progressed through to their respective finals in the T11 200m (second in 27.41), T46 200m (third in 26.41) and T54 800m [winner in 1:41.45).