Jonnie Peacock, the poster boy of British Paralympic sprinting, gave the home crowds plenty to cheer about in the highly anticipated 100m T44 final - one of a number of thrilling sprint races taking place at the IPC Athletics European Championships on Tuesday (19 August).
The 21-year-old world and Paralympic champion never looked in doubt as he stormed home on the Swansea track to add the European title to his ever expanding medal collection, clocking 11.26.
Germany’s talented teenager Felix Streng took second in 11.53, with his compatriot Markus Rehm third in 11.85.
“It’s a nice relief,” said Peacock. “There was a lot of pressure on me coming here. When everyone is telling you you’re the favourite then it adds to the pressure. I knew it was a good field. Felix is a very good athlete and he’s going to get better.”
The women’s 100m T44 also went to form, with Dutch ‘Blade Babe’ Marlou van Rhijn underlining her place at the top of the rankings, although the 22-year-old was made to work hard for the win.
However with 20 metres remaining van Rhijn’s superiority shone through, speeding to the line in 13.18. Germany’s upcoming talent Irmgard Bensusan took silver (13.39) with Laura Sugar of Great Britain setting a new personal best for bronze (13.71).
“It was so cool. It was the first time I’ve had a title to defend so I was pretty nervous at the start. I’m just so happy I could win that one,” said van Rhijn.
Mandy Francois-Elie was also made to work hard for her European gold medal in the 100m T37, crossing the line in 13.92. The French double world champion was pushed all the way by Russia’s Anna Sapozhnikova who finished with silver in a personal best time of 14.07.
There was no surprise as Hannah Cockroft picked up Great Britain’s second track medal of the afternoon, a straightforward win for the 22-year-old who clocked 18.53 in the 100m T34 – well outside the world record she set earlier this year in Nottwil, but still well clear of the field.
Samantha Kinghorn notched up another gold for Great Britain, her second of the day, adding the 100m T53 title to her 400m victory this morning.
Finland’s Henry Manni tore through the field with terrific power in the second half of the 100m T34 to take gold in 16.42 ahead of European record holder Bojan Mitic of Switzerland.
The 22-year-old showed great strength as he moved from fourth place to first, pipping Mitic on the line.
“It was not a very fast race – it was quite tough. The most important thing is the win. It doesn’t matter what the race is like when you win the title,” he said.
Manni’s compatriot Leo-Pekka Tahti was next out on the track and the Paralympic and world champion made it two in a row for Finland with victory in the 100m T54 ahead of his Dutch rival Kenny van Weeghel.
Ireland’s double world and Paralympic champion Jason Smyth showed he’s the man to beat in the T12 class, winning the 100m with ease in 10.78 ahead of Russia’s world silver medallist Artem Loginov.
“I feel good, it was good to win,” said Smyth. “It’s really nice to be here in Swansea, the track is well set up. Thanks to everyone involved from officials to volunteers. I’m focused on the 200m now and then it’s time for a break.”
With the World and Paralympic 100m T42 champion Heinrich Popow not in Swansea due to injury, Frenchman Clavel Kayitare took full advantage, pulling clear of the field to take gold in 13.08.
World and Paralympic Italy’s Martina Caironi meanwhile made her presence known on the track in the women’s 100m T42, successfully defending her European crown ahead of her German rivals, Vanessa Low and Jana Schmidt.
“It’s Italy’s first gold so I’m very pleased. But I think it’ll be the first of many. Although it was off my personal best it was very windy so I’m happy,” said Caironi.
Great Britain’s Graeme Ballard made a terrific start in the 100m T36 but he was unable to hold off Russia’s multiple world and Paralympic gold medallist Evgenii Shvetcov who reeled in the Briton in the final 20 metres to hold on to the title he won two years ago in a season’s best 12.33.
There were further sprint wins for Russia from world champion and world record holder Andrey Vdovin in the 100m T37 and Dmitrii Safronov in the 100m T35, whose long, graceful stride made winning look easy in a season’s best 12.73.
Ukraine’s European record holder Mykyta Senyk won the 100m T38 in 11.74, and there was track gold for Germany in the women’s 200m T36, as Claudia Nicoleitzik held on to her lead off the bend to win in 32.26.
In the longer distances Switzerland’s Manuela Schaer kicked off her European Championship campaign with a win in the 400m T54, clocking 59.11, whilst Poland’s Alicja Fiodorow won the women’s 400m T47.
A gritty display by Toni Piispanen secured the Finn gold in the 400m T51 – the 38-year-old looked to be struggling in the final 100m and just made it over the line in first place.
“It was a challenge winning the race,” he explained. “I had some problems after 200m - I couldn’t breathe well and it was quite painful. I’m very happy to win. I’m competing tomorrow in the 100m so I’m looking forward to it.”
Austria’s Thomas Geierspichler made his intentions clear from the start of the 1500m T52, taking to the front from the gun and crossing the line with a convincing victory. Frenchman Pierre Fairbank meanwhile timed his race to perfection, biding his time until the final 100m of the 800m T53 before pushing home for gold.
“I’m very happy because the last time I won at the European Championships was 2003, so I have had to wait for a long time,” said Fairbank. “The race was very technical and I knew there was going to be a strong wind, so I didn’t want to go to the front too early. I waited for my turn.”
Out in the field, Russia’s two-time double world and Paralympic champion Alexei Ashapatov continued his domination of the shot put F57 - a season’s best 13.81m earning him another major championship gold.
There was another gold for Russia courtesy of world and Paralympic champion Nikita Prokhorov, who added the European javelin F46 title to his collection, leading from the first throw and managing a best of 45.24m. The javelin F42 title went to Iceland’s Helgi Sveinsson, improving on the silver he won two years ago.
“It went as I planned except I was hoping for the world record, but sometimes it does not go that way,” said Sveinsson, who won in Lyon last year. “The conditions were as good as I could have hoped for but it was not the day. But I am happy as I can be to win the title, this has been my focus all year.”
Daniel Scheil moved from second place up to first in the discus F34 with a final throw of 25.30m – a new personal best for the 41-year-old, and Georgios Kostakis took gold in the triple jump F47 with an opening hop, skip and jump of 13.78m.
In the women’s long jump F11 Sweden’s Viktoria Karlsson leapt to gold with a personal best of 4.48m, whilst a personal best of 1.84m gave Belarus their first gold of the championships courtesy of Siarhei Burdukou in the high jump F12.